The Complete 2024 Guide to the Employee Handbook  (2024)

An employee handbook should be the backbone of any organization to provide guidance and clarity on all HR-related items. Every HR team spends significant time and energy answering employee HR-related questions. With a well-crafted manual in place, not only do you have a reference point for employees to turn to when they have questions or concerns, but it also helps create a more streamlined, efficient HR process.

An HR handbook is a vital resource to help set clear expectations for behavior and performance and helping to foster a positive workplace culture. While there are no laws in the United States that require companies to create a handbook, some states require specific employment laws to be written down and easy to access by employees. Therefore, an employee handbook is a perfect medium to ensure you meet local legal requirements in your company.

If you’re ready to take your HR game to the next level, it’s time to get serious about creating or updating your organization’s HR handbook. So let’s dive in!

Contents
What is an employee handbook?Why is it important for HR to create an employee handbook?Key components to include in an employee handbook6 Steps to create an effective employee handbook

What is an employee handbook?

An employee handbook, also called an employee manual, serves as a comprehensive guide to your organization’s mission, vision, values, employee and workplace policies, HR-related procedures, employee benefits, and code of conduct in the workplace, among other things. In short, it sets clear employee expectations, defines their rights, and communicates your company’s legal obligations.

Additionally, the employee handbook is a crucial introduction to your business for new hires and will help your team when onboarding. It also helps new employees align themselves with your organization’s culture and goals by providing insights into your mission, vision, and values.

The manual provides them with a resource to look back on if they forgot or missed something during their first few weeks. Overall, the employee handbook is a valuable tool that benefits both employees and employers alike by fostering a positive and productive workplace culture.

Why is it important for HR to create an employee handbook?

HR departments will always have a ton of tasks on their hands, and therefore the assignment of creating and maintaining your employee handbook can be overlooked. But in the grand scheme of things, having this manual could save you and your company from future legal battles and headaches.

Many corporate businesses already have an employee handbook. If you are in this category, great! You are already one step ahead. But how often is it updated? Are your employees actually using it? Conversely, many small companies don’t even have a handbook for their team to refer to.

Employee handbooks are a valuable tool for providing clarity and structure to both employees and management. It sets out policies and expectations, such as dress code and emergency procedures, and outlines disciplinary procedures for those who break the rules. This helps everyone understand what is expected of them and makes it easier to manage employee behavior. It can also provide managers with a reference for starting disciplinary procedures, which helps maintain consistency throughout the business.

Additionally, a detailed manual can also protect your business from legal liability by clearly communicating your rules on anti-discrimination policies or how to report harassment. By having a handbook in place, you can ensure that your company complies with the latest federal, state, and local laws.

An employee handbook is also an effective tool for employee engagement and motivation. You can help build a positive and productive workplace culture by clearly outlining the company’s mission and values and the benefits and opportunities available to employees.

So, whether you’re working for a large employer or a smaller business, it’s time to prioritize your employee handbook. But remember, it’s not a one-time process – this manual should be maintained and updated regularly to ensure it reflects your business practices and legal requirements.

Key components to include in an employee handbook

One of the exciting things about creating employee handbooks is that there are many ways to construct one. Therefore, your team has a lot of options when deciding what should be added or not. However, we would suggest adding the following items to your handbook to make it as comprehensive as possible:

1. General company information

A great way to introduce new employees to your company and its leadership is by starting your employee handbook with a general company information section. Here you can add information about your organization’s history, who is on the leadership board, and company structure to give clarify your new team member.

2. Company mission, vision, and values

Your company’s mission defines your business, its objectives, and how it will reach them. The vision is where your organization hopes to go in the future, and your values reinforce the company’s vision and shape its work culture. These three points are essential for your employee to understand, and when well communicated, employees can collaborate and work together towards the business’s goals and objectives. Hubspot has a very detailed culture section in its handbook. Remember, there are many ways to create a manual; you can go as detailed or as simple as you want,

3. Employment policies

This section should include information about your team member’s employment terms, such as what defines full-time and part-time employees and interns. In this section, you may want to add information on compensation philosophy, pay scales, and performance review information.

4. Equal employment opportunity

Depending on the size and number of employees you have in your company, there are many different laws you need to follow that relate to employee rights in the United States of America. One of these is the Equal Employment Opportunity (or EEO).

A business that follows these rules must ensure that they are not discriminating against employee and job applicants based on protected traits such as race, gender, religion, age, and other categorizations that can be discriminated against. Your employee handbook is an excellent place for an Equal Opportunity Employer Statement to let your team know they are protected under EEO.

5. Anti-harassment policy

The U.S. equal opportunity employment commission also protects employees from harassment at work or retaliation for reporting harassment. You should add a section in your employee handbook that outlines a definition of the different types of harassment an employee can experience, how to report harassment, who is responsible for supporting the employee, and the types of disciplinary actions that can be taken if an employee is found in contempt of these laws.

You can find a great example of this in GitLab’s public employee handbook.

6. Employee conduct and discipline

It may not always be evident to team members what constitutes good employee conduct. Adding a section to your manual will clarify what is expected in your company’s code of conduct, such as:

  • Appropriate use of corporate email
  • Dress code
  • The use of social media at work
  • Relationships at work

Trello has a simple yet clear example in their employee handbook on dress code. You can also add information on what disciplinary measures can be taken if your team member breaks the rules.The Complete 2024 Guide to the Employee Handbook (1)

7. Work hours and scheduling

If your company has set work hours or specific schedules your employee needs to follow, add to the employee handbook for clarity. Make sure that there is information or policies on how to switch scheduled days or hours if that is something your business allows.

8. Time-off policies / leave schemes

Does your company offer paid time off or other leave schemes, such as medical, maternity, or family leave? Include details of your policies as well as information on how to request leave, who approves the leave, and when the company can decide not to approve it.

Check out Trello’s handbook to see a detailed example of leave.

9. Employee benefits

A part of what attracts and retains talent are your employee benefits. You’ll want to make sure that your team members are informed of their benefits and take advantage of them – that’s why you have them for your company’s employees. The length and detail of this section will depend on how many benefits you have and if there are differences based on location.

Pronto Marketing has a nice yet simple example of employee benefits.

10. Safety and security in the workplace

Your team members’ safety and security should be the company’s priority. This is especially true if your team is working near heavy equipment. Laws in the U.S. regulate workplace safety but make sure your employees know how to stay safe in their environment, which will also help you mitigate the risk of potential lawsuits.

Additional components:

There are additional elements you may also want to add to your employee handbook:

  • Welcome letter from the CEO or founder
  • Annual office closures
  • Internal tooling information
  • Cyber security tips
  • Onboarding information (first day/month)
  • Offboarding information
  • Internal IT Support
  • People operations team information
  • Breaks and meals
  • Work travel reimbursem*nt policies

6 Steps to create an effective employee handbook

1. Begin with your culture and values

Start with your culture and values to get your team into the mindset of creating or updating the employee handbook. These two subjects should be the backbone of many internal decisions around your policies and procedures and will help you create a consistent message throughout your manual. But have fun; these manuals can be a creative way to engage and inform your team.

2. Conduct a review of existing policies and procedures

Policies and procedures aren’t just about legal requirements and best practices; they should also embody your company’s values and vision, permeating every part of your organization. Reviewing existing policies and procedures will allow you to ensure they are consistent with what your business needs as it grows. It is possible that the foundational elements of your policies may stay the same. Still, the specifics of implementing them may need to shift as the industry and/or your organization evolves.

HR pro tip

By conducting a review, you can also write down what policies you have already implemented and which ones you think are missing and use this as a table of context for your employee handbook.

3. Ensure all policies are legally compliant

Your organization must comply with all federal, state, and local laws and regulations. If you aren’t, you are opening up your business to potential lawsuits.

Laws and policies constantly evolve, and they differ across cities and states. The variation is even more significant if your team is international because you have employees with vastly different employment laws in multiple locations.

If you have a large team, you may have someone in HR dedicated to being up-to-date on HR Compliance, but if your team is small, it may make sense to work with an Employment Law Lawyer.

4. Establish a process for reviewing and updating

Your handbook needs to be a living document that changes with the organization. It is, therefore, important that your HR team updates the manual often. To do this, establish a structured process that gives your team time to review each section.

It’s common for the workplace to see a fresh batch of laws and regulations at the federal, state, and local levels in the new year. This makes January an ideal time for HR professionals to carefully examine their employee handbooks and consider necessary updates.

HR pro tip:

It can be easy to overlook making changes in your handbook. To make it easier, book a recurring week in your January calendar for your team to focus solely on employee handbook changes.

5. Ensure the handbook is approved by legal

Getting buy-in and approval from legal before publishing your handbook to the rest of the company is essential to ensure you are legally compliant and there aren’t any missing topics or policies.

6. Encourage feedback and make changes as needed

Receiving feedback on your handbook from the rest of your team is essential. They may point out things you are missing or sections that could be more clear. Additionally, your company may make changes mid-year, so ensure your handbook is updated with important information more often than yearly if needed.

HR pro tip:

Encourage the team to give feedback by asking individuals directly or sending a survey after the handbook.

Key takeaways

  1. An employee handbook sets clear expectations for behavior and performance, defines employees’ rights, and communicates legal obligations. It is also a valuable tool for providing clarity and structure to both employees and management.
  2. An HR department should create an employee handbook to save the company from future legal battles and headaches. A detailed manual can protect the company from legal liability, for example, by communicating rules on anti-discrimination policies or how to report harassment.
  3. Your employee handbook can be as detailed or as simple as you want to make it. Start with your culture and values to help you create a consistent message throughout your manual, and have fun!

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The Complete 2024 Guide to the Employee Handbook (3)

Jayla Cosentino

Jayla Cosentino is a recruitment professional who specializes in hiring teams for start-ups and scale-ups. She focuses on 360 recruitment as well as building and optimizing organizations’ recruitment processes. Passionate about everything recruitment and HR, Jayla has spoken at conferences organized by companies such as Honeypot.io and ProductUp, as well as at universities like the University of Utrecht.

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The Complete 2024 Guide to the Employee Handbook  (2024)
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