That Employee Handbook Won’t Write Itself

It’s a new year. Now is the time to put pen to paper (or keyboard to computer?) to compile that employee handbook you’ve been avoiding.
That Employee Handbook Won’t Write Itself
The value of an employee handbook is difficult to refute. The tricky part is determining what your company handbook should include.

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One of the foundations of effective management is clarity in communication — and that includes clarity in explaining the expectations you’ve set for your team members. Employees need to know what kinds of behaviors you wish for them to exhibit, and which to avoid — and penalizing them for misunderstanding your expectations is unfair unless you’ve translated those expectations into official policies. 

That’s really reason enough to consider putting together an employee handbook — a set of codified guidelines that your employees can refer back to when they need to understand the company’s stance on a given issue. 

There is another, perhaps even more important reason for employee handbooks, though, and it’s simply this: If you have a handbook with clearly outlined expectations, it significantly reduces your company’s risk during litigation. 

What does the law say about employee handbooks?

The value of an employee handbook is difficult to refute. The tricky part is determining what your company handbook should include. There is some room for leeway with the topics you address, but there are also some standard features that all company handbooks should contain. 

In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor actually requires a few elements to be featured in your employee handbook. State laws also touch on employee handbooks, and companies that operate in multiple states may therefore require multiple handbooks. 

Before drafting a handbook, do some research and see what you absolutely must include within it, according to the law. Note that some of the topics you will almost certainly need to address include: 

  • Family medical leave policies.
  • Equal labor and non-discrimination policies.
  • Worker’s compensation policies. 

What else to include in an employee handbook?

Even beyond the things that you are legally required to include in the employee handbook, there are a few topics that are simply prudent to address. Some of these include:

  • Your policies regarding paid time off. How do employees earn vacation time, and how is vacation time requested? How much advance notice needs to be given? What about sick and personal days, if these distinctions even exist within your company?
  • Your policies regarding employee attendance, breaks, rest periods, tardiness, and so forth.
  • Internet, email, and social media policies — as well as BYOD (bring your own device) policies, if you have them.
  • Expectations regarding employee attire.
  • Your company’s policies regarding drugs and substance abuse.
  • Some comments about when/how often employee reviews happen, and how promotions and raises might be awarded.
  • Your company’s policies for creating a safe and healthy workplace, including OSHA or any other relevant certifications. 

Properly framing your employee handbook

In addition to these topics, there are a few other, more general comments and clauses that companies should include in their employee handbooks. One thing to be clear about is that the handbook itself is not a contract — and it does not guarantee ongoing employment in any way. 

You also want to make sure that the authority of the handbook is made clear; a good way to do this is to include a clause noting that the handbook trumps any previous memos or policy documents, including older copies of the handbook. At the same time, you want to make sure employees know that your handbook is subject to change. 

A final note: If you’re using your handbook to protect your company from litigation or false accusations, then it is absolutely critical to include a page in the handbook for your employees to sign — simply acknowledging their receipt of the document — and then return to you for filing away. Make certain that all employees are clear on what you expect from them, and that they confirm that clarity in writing. 

About the Author

Amanda E. Clark is the president and editor-in-chief of Grammar Chic Inc., a full-service professional writing company. She is a published ghostwriter and editor, and currently under contract with literary agencies in Malibu, Calif., and Dublin, Ireland.

Since founding Grammar Chic in 2008, Clark, along with her team of skilled professional writers, has offered expertise to clients in the creative, business and academic fields. The company accepts a wide range of projects and often engages in content and social media marketing, drafts resumes, press releases, Web content, marketing materials and ghostwritten creative pieces.

Contact Clark at


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