What Should Go In an Employee Handbook? Sample Template Included.

Communication is key to the success of all relationships, including the one between an employer and employee. To guarantee everyone is on the same page when it comes to a business’s rules, expectations, and other guidelines, it’s important to provide a thorough, clearly written employee handbook to everyone involved in the business. Even if it’s a two-man shop, having all the nitty-gritty details of the business in writing will lead to fewer headaches in the future.

Why Employee Handbooks are Important

Employee handbooks help newcomers understand the business. When done well, they provide answers to frequently asked questions; clearly outline company policies and expectations; explain the at-will nature of the employment; contain health, safety, and benefits plans; and explain the company’s disciplinary and termination policies.

That’s a lot to cover. To help you from feeling overwhelmed, we’ve broken up the process of writing an employee handbook into simple steps and included a general outline for what all handbooks should contain. We’ve also provided a few tips that will be helpful to keep in mind before, during, and after crafting your handbook. Just follow along, and soon you’ll be all ready to go!

(Note: Employment laws vary from state to state, so the following information and tips are written as general advice that applies to most situations. Always consult an employment attorney licensed to practice in your area in order to guarantee your handbook correctly covers all the necessary information.)

How to Make an Employee Handbook

The most basic function of an employee handbook is to communicate the rights and expectations of the employee and the rights and expectations of the employer. To do this, there are a handful of items every handbook must contain.

At minimum an employee handbook should contain the following eight items, according to the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) Legal Foundation:
  1. An employment at-will disclaimer (meaning the employment relationship may be terminated with or without cause and with or without notice at any time by the employee or employer)
  2. An equal employment opportunity policy statement
  3. A policy prohibiting unlawful discrimination and harassment
  4. A section that describes the policy for use of company property and privacy rules (computers, email, voicemail, etc.)
  5. A section on employment classification and overtime rules
  6. A policy on family and medical leave (if you have 50 or more employees)
  7. A section on safety
  8. A disciplinary guide

Keep in mind, these are just the bare minimum. Many other elements — history and culture of the company, dress code, attendance policies, vacation, review procedures, benefits, etc. — should also be considered and, potentially, included. Adding more detail about more topics leaves less room for confusion and error (a.k.a. legal trouble) if an employee needs to be let go later.

Below we've created a sample employee handbook outline, which incorporates recommendations from the NFIB, you can use for your organization's handbook. Remember, this is only an outline: You can and should tailor your employee handbook to meet your company’s specific needs. There is no must-follow order and there is no must-include list of items (the legal requirements mentioned above being the only exception — definitely include those!). We just believe that the more information provided upfront, the better.

The Ultimate Employee Handbook Sample Template

  1. Welcome
    • History, Goals, & Core Values
    • Purpose of Handbook
    • At-Will Employment
  2. Workplace Commitments
    • Equal Opportunity Employment
    • Non-Harassment / Non-Discrimination
    • Drug Free / Alcohol Free
    • Open Door Policy
  3. Company Policy and Procedures
    • Code of Professional Conduct
    • Dress Code
    • Payday
    • Company Property
    • Privacy
    • Personnel Files
  4. Employment Classification
    • Exempt, Non-Exempt, Part-Time, Full-Time, or Temporary Status
  5. Attendance Policies
    • General Attendance
    • Tardiness
    • Breaks
  6. Leave Policies
  7. Work Performance
    • Expectations
    • Reviews
    • Insubordination
  8. Discipline Policy
    • Grounds for Disciplinary Action
    • Procedures
    • Termination
  9. Employee Health and Safety
  10. Benefits
    • Health Insurance
    • Retirement Plans
    • Worker’s Compensation
    • Disability
  11. Termination Policies
    • Voluntary Termination
    • Final Paycheck
    • COBRA Continuation of Benefits
    • Exit Interview
  12. Acknowledgments of Receipt
    • Employee Copy
    • Employer Copy

One good employee handbook example of is this one from Skidmore College. While specific to the college, the categories and information included provide guidelines any business can use.

Tips to Keep in Mind

Here are a few things to keep in mind when crafting your employee handbook.
  • Keep it simple. An employee handbook should be concise and provide necessary information without flowery writing. Remember the handbook is meant to aid employees in understanding company policies and expectations. Using obscure language could lead to misunderstandings and — in worst-case scenarios — legal issues later on.
  • Have a disclaimer. The disclaimer is what defines the nature of a handbook and should clearly state that the document is not a contract of employment. The disclaimer is so important it should be included both at the beginning and end of the handbook for emphasis.
  • Have a lawyer review it. Anything you say or don’t say in your handbook could lead to legal trouble. It’s better to seek legal help early rather than need legal help later.
  • Remember the law. Make sure your handbook complies with state and federal laws. Again, a lawyer can help you with this.
  • Stay up-to-date. Your handbook should reflect the world as-is: that is, it should include relevant information about technology, laws, and society. Keep such things as same-sex marriage laws, internet privacy issues, and other timely issues in mind when writing your handbook. Stay on top of these laws so that you can update your employee handbook as new legislation is passed. If you do end up making changes, make sure to notify all staff and provide them with the new version.
  • Make sure all employees have a copy. This includes temporary, part-time, and contract employees, as well as interns. It’s also a good idea to have it posted on your company’s internal website. That way, updates can easily be made and it is always instantly accessible to employees.
  • Consider Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs). NDAs aren’t legally required, but they can protect trade secrets. However, don't confuse them with non-competes, as these can be tricky to enforce and aren’t always necessary. If you do want to include non-compete agreements in your handbook, be sure to look into whether or not a non-compete agreement would truly benefit your business before including one in your contracts.
  • Clearly define compensation expectations. Explain the deductions that will be made for federal and state taxes, as well as voluntary deductions for benefit programs.

By following the outline provided by NFIB and considering the above tips, you’ll be able to write a helpful, thorough, and legally sound employee handbook that keeps you and your employees on the same page.

This Information Is Not Legal Advice


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