How to Write an Employee Handbook: Everything You Need to Know About Communicating Effectively with Your Employees

Onboarding new staff is a basic function of any business. Successfully onboarding new hires enables them to hit the ground running and contribute to the company. For trainers, an employee handbook is a practical tool to help streamline the onboarding process. For managers, it is a go-to resource they can rely on to communicate company policy at every stage of employment.

Employee handbooks are essential for human resource management. They provide guidance and information for incumbent employees and new hires. Companies, however, must keep in mind that employee handbooks are not universal. For companies operating in multiple states, distinction in labor laws may require writing separate handbooks for each state. In other words, businesses must tailor handbooks to local labor legislation.

What are the key features that effective employee handbooks must contain? To help you get started, we’ll outline the practices relevant to writing a functional employee handbook. Your firm should consult an attorney and/or human resources professional to ensure the Employee Handbook meets all applicable standards and laws.

Paper boats - Employee handbook

What Is an Employee Handbook?

An employee handbook is a communication tool between employers and employees that provides helpful guidance and information on a company’s business practices. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) defines an employee handbook as a “valuable communication resource for both the employer and the employee. It provides guidance and information related to the organization’s history, mission, values, policies, procedures, and benefits in a written format.”

The SHRM’s definition highlights the importance of an employee handbook as a communication tool. New hires can get a clear idea of what the company stands for and how they fit within its structure for onboarding purposes. Incumbent employees can rely on the handbook when issues or questions arise regarding company guidelines.

Employee Handbook vs. Employee Manual, What’s the Difference?

Policy manuals are typically a reference tool for managers that address individual company regulations in detail. They often include references to laws that correlate to company regulations. In contrast, an employee handbook provides a comprehensive overview of all company aspects employees need to know. In this regard, a policy manual is a technical document, whereas an employee handbook is an easy-to-reference guide outlining company expectations as stated by individual policies. Managers may refer to policy manuals if they require a deeper understanding of how to enforce company policies.

Why Is an Employee Handbook Important?

An employee handbook is a written statement about a company’s business practices, policies, and regulations. As a result, the handbook communicates to employees what the company expects from them and proves that a company has made employees aware of its policies. By signing the handbook, employees accept responsibility for their adherence to company policies and regulations.

It is worth noting that an employee handbook does not constitute an employment contract. Thus, the language used in the handbook must communicate policies but not imply consent from the employee to follow them.

Does Your Company Need an Employee Handbook?

In short, yes. All companies need an employee handbook to provide that written proof that it has communicated their policies and regulations to employees. Without written employee acknowledgment, responsibility for any legal non-compliance may swing back to the company. For instance, a company may be vulnerable to a wrongful termination suit on the grounds that it did not clearly communicate its expectations to employees. Consequently, it is a must to ensure proper legal cover.

What Are You Legally Required to Have in an Employee Handbook?

Employee handbooks’ contents depend primarily on each state’s specific labor regulations. Companies must ensure that their handbook complies with local labor legislation. Moreover, it is crucial for companies to seek legal counsel to ensure that employee handbooks are up to date and compliant with changes in labor laws.

Generally speaking, all employee handbooks should contain the following elements:

• Family and medical leave policies.

• Equal employment and non-discrimination regulations (including disability provisions).

• Workers’ compensation rules.

• Maternity/paternity leave policies.

• Harassment reporting procedures.

A good rule of thumb is to review employee handbooks quarterly to ensure they reflect the most recent changes in human resources practices and payroll regulations.

What Clauses Should an Employee Handbook Contain?

Employee handbooks should contain the following provisions to ensure appropriate communication with employees:

• An employee handbook is not a contract. Consequently, acknowledgment of the handbook does not constitute an employment contract.

• The current version of the handbook supersedes any previous editions.

• Policies contained within the handbook may change without notice.

• All employees must acknowledge awareness of the handbook, in writing, generally by signing and initialing a copy of the document. For instance, “I (employee name) acknowledge receipt and hereby declare that I have read and understood the clauses and provisions contained herein” is a sample statement that can comprise the employee’s legal acceptance of the handbook.

employees having lunch

What Should an Employee Handbook Contain?

Effective employee handbooks should contain the following elements:

• A brief company history, including a description of the company’s mission and vision, should lead off the handbook to clearly communicate the company’s philosophy, values, and principles.

• An overview of the company’s policies and procedures. The employee handbook can refer to specific policy documents as needed.

• Paid leave policies such as holidays, vacation, and sick days.

• Employee behavior policies or code of conduct. The code of conduct must establish acceptable and unacceptable behaviors such as texting at work, personal calls, dress code, inappropriate or offensive language, tardiness rules, personal time, and use of company resources for personal purposes.

Compensation scheme including salary, bonus structure, and benefits.

• Please bear in mind that every company is different. As such, your employee handbook must be a living document. Keeping it static does your business a disservice. Regularly updating your handbook ensures your onboarding process and day-to-day business operations remain smooth and seamless.

To make things easier, here is a helpful model you can use to craft your company’s employee handbook.

If you are looking for inspiration, check out these sample handbooks.

This sample employee handbook is a wonderful comprehensive example of how you can produce one for your company.

How Should the Company Distribute an Employee Handbook?

Ideally, companies should distribute employee handbooks in print. Doing so ensures that there is physical proof of delivery. Additionally, companies must ensure that employees provide written acknowledgment of receipt. A written acknowledgment is crucial, especially when disciplinary issues emerge. Companies can demonstrate that they duly informed employees of relevant regulations in effect.

How Can TalentZök Help facilitate hiring and best practices in your company?

At TalentZök, we have experienced staff that has been in the business for a long time. Our staff members understand what it takes to help companies develop and implement hiring best practices. Moreover, our experts know what your company needs based on your business practices, location, and turn of business. Find out today about how TalentZök can help you implement the best hiring practices in your company today.


This post is made available for informational purposes only to provide a general understanding of the topics discussed herein. It is not intended to provide specific business, legal, or professional advice and should not be relied on as such. TalentZök is not liable or responsible for any damage or loss arising from any reliance placed on such materials.


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