The good old employee handbook–you’re probably wondering if your small business has grown to a point where you need one. We will answer that question and more in this article, as well as provide you a Free Employee Handbook Sample for you to download. You can also check out Zenefits, which offers a free employee handbook while streamlining hiring, onboarding, and more. Click here to check it out.
Think of the employee handbook as the keeper of the general “rules of thumb” for your business (like your company values and work hours) as well as any policies and laws that employees need to know about (like benefits and sick leave).
In this article, we will provide information on:
- Free Employee Handbook Sample
- Why Do I Need An Employee Handbook?
- What Concerns Should I Have About Employee Handbooks?
- How Do I Implement an Employee Handbook?
- Additional Potential Employee Handbook Sections
- Employee Handbook vs. Employment Agreement
- How Do I Change or Update My Current Employee Handbook?
Please note that this article contains general information only, and you should consult with your attorney before making decisions on hiring or other business matters.
Free Employee Handbook Sample
Our handbook sample covers the very basics that you would want to cover in your handbook. We picked these sections because, in general, they are valid for small business owners in all 50 states. However, this is a dramatically scaled down version of a handbook and you will want to check local laws (i.e. sick leave, maternity leave) to make sure that your handbook is complete. Access this handbook here as a Google Doc, here as a PDF, and here as a Word Document.
Introduction to Company & Values
Welcome to ABC Company!
Founded in 2012, ABC is aiming to be the premier, boutique social media marketing firm in Charlotte. Founded by James Smith, we pride ourselves in being a workplace that works hard, has fun, and serves our clients with A+ quality every day.
What is important to being a part of the team at ABC Company?
We believe in:
- Continuous Improvement– Both for our own professional development and for the services we provide our clients, becoming an ever better version of ourselves and for our clients is important to the very core of ABC Company. We want to improve and innovate constantly and consistently, this is a core value that is important to the organization and our success.
- Rolling Up Sleeves– No matter your level in the organization, you’re willing to dive in head first to get work done and support the team. No one is above lending a hand and ensuring what needs to get done to achieve success is done.
- Transparency– We believe in being honest with our clients and with ourselves in order to become the best people, co-workers, and advisors to our clients that we can be.
- Creativity– Our clients rely on our ability to be creative, to think “outside of the box”, and to deliver winning solutions. Being creative at ABC Company is a core value and should be fostered on a personal and professional level.
- Craftsmanship– Our work is our art and we want to apply attention to detail, pride, and the highest quality behind every client account and and company project we work on.
- Experiences– Learning by experience is the way we grow. We shouldn’t be afraid of failure if we’re trying, learning, and moving forward. We should push ourselves to try new things both personally and professionally.
ABC Company’s policies may change at any time, and staff employees are expected to comply with the most current versions. To the extent this Handbook conflicts with any applicable company policy, the policy will govern. If you have questions concerning this Handbook or a policy, consult your supervisor for clarification.
Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) and Conflict of Interest Statements
Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs)
To identify information that is considered confidential and to establish guidelines for the use of confidential information for ABC Company’s employees & contractors.
Employees & contractors must not misuse confidential information, including internal and client information and communications. It is a condition of employment that the employee signs the ABC Company’s Confidentiality and Intellectual Property Assignment Agreement, which will be provided under separate cover.
Confidential information generally consists of non-public information about a person or an entity that, if disclosed, could reasonably be expected to place either the person or the entity at risk of criminal or civil liability, or damage the person or entity’s financial standing, employability, privacy or reputation. The Company is bound by law or contract to protect some types of confidential information, and in other instances the Company requires protection of confidential information beyond legal or contractual requirements as an additional safeguard. Confidential information includes but is not limited to:
- Payroll records, salary and non-public benefits information
- Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, state identification card numbers
- Credit and debit card information, and financial account information
- Personnel records, including but not limited to information regarding an employee’s work history, credentials, salary and salary grade, benefits, length of service, performance, and discipline
- Individual conflict of interest information
- Computer system passwords and security codes
- Information regarding client accounts including client information
- ABC Company’s internal business plans, tools, products and digital strategy methods
Conflicts of Interest
The Company understands that its staff employees may have or be involved in outside financial, business, professional, academic, public service, or other activities. However, outside activities or commitments, familial or other relationships, private financial or other interests, and benefits or gifts received from third parties may create an actual or perceived conflict of interest between the staff employee and the Company. A conflict of interest is a situation, arrangement, or circumstance where the staff employee’s outside or private interests or relationships interfere or appear to interfere with those of the Company or cast doubt on the fairness or integrity of the Company’s business dealings. Every staff employee is responsible for disclosing to his or her supervisor, any financial or personal interests, activities, or personal or familial relationships that create an actual or perceived conflict of interest.
The purpose of this policy is to establish guidelines for conflicts of interest or commitment that might arise in the course of staff employees’ duties and external activities. This policy does not seek to unreasonably limit external activities, but instead seeks to emphasize the need to disclose conflicts and potential conflicts of interest and commitment, to manage such conflicts and to ensure that the Company’s interests are not compromised.
As a basic condition of employment, all Company staff employees have a duty to act in the Company’s best interest in connection with matters arising from or related to their employment and other Company activities. In essence, this duty means that staff employees must not engage in external activities that interfere with their obligations to the Company, damage the Company’s reputation, compete with the Company’s interests, or compromise the independence of the Company’s research and business activities, or can reasonably be seen as doing so. Staff employees likewise must not profit or otherwise gain advantage from any external activity at the Company’s expense or engage in external activities under circumstances that appear to be at the Company’s expense.
Staff employees must disclose and avoid actual and perceived conflicts of interest or commitment between their Company responsibilities and their external activities. Depending on the circumstances, employee participation in activities in which a conflict or perceived conflict of interest exists may be prohibited or may be permitted but affirmatively managed.
ABC Company provides equal employment opportunities to all employees, applicants, and job seekers, and is committed to making decisions using reasonable standards based on each individual’s qualifications as they relate to a particular employment action (e.g., hiring, training, promotions). No person shall be discriminated against in employment or harassed because of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national or ethnic origin, age, status as an individual with a physical or mental disability unrelated to ability, protected veteran status, military status, unfavorable discharge from military service, citizenship status, genetic information, marital status, parental status, ancestry, source of income, credit history, housing status, order of protection status, actual or perceived association with such a person or other classes protected by law. This policy includes the commitment to maintaining a work environment free from unlawful harassment.
Under this policy, no employee or applicant shall be subject to retaliation (including harassment, intimidation, threats, coercion or discrimination) because he/she has engaged, in good faith, in the following activities: (i) filing a complaint under this Policy with the Company, or with federal, state or local equal employment opportunity agencies; (ii) assisting or participating in an investigation or other activity related to the administration of any federal, state or local equal employment opportunity or affirmative action law; (iii) opposing any act or practice prohibited by this Policy or federal, state or local equal employment opportunity or affirmative action law; or (iv) exercising any other right protected by federal, state or local equal employment opportunity or affirmative action law. Staff employees and applicants for staff jobs should immediately bring any complaint or retaliation under this Policy to the business owner.
ABC Company complies with all federal and state laws concerning the employment of persons with disabilities and acts in accordance with such regulations and guidance including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as amended. Employees with any questions or requests related to the these laws and guidelines, including the ADA as amended, should contact the Company’s ownership.
Required deductions for federal and state taxes
As an employee of ABC Company, there are certain required deductions from the federal government that are mandatory and must come out of our employees’ paychecks.
- Social security
- Federal withholding taxes
- State withholding taxes
- Garnishments/ child support as ordered by the law
Voluntary deductions from an ABC Company’s employee paycheck can include participation in benefits programs deductions. These are elective deductions.
The Company may make deductions from an employee’s pay for:
- Full day absences for personal reasons or sickness if vacation/sick leave has been exhausted
- Any days not worked in the initial and final weeks of employment
- For hours taken as unpaid leave
Employees of ABC Company are considered to be exempt from overtime.
Exempt status as classified by the FLSA is for those employed in professional roles, such as those at ABC Company, with a salary (versus an hourly wage).
Non-exempt status is reserved for hourly workers, and they are eligible for overtime.
If you have questions on your status, please ask your supervisor.
Employees at ABC Company are paid on a bimonthly basis on the 15th and 30th. If a pay day shall fall on a Saturday, Sunday, or bank holiday, the employee will be paid on the Friday prior.
General Employment Information
The probationary period is a time for you to learn about your job and become familiar with ABC Company. During this time, your supervisor will explain Company policies and procedure, your job duties, and your performance expectations. Your performance will be closely evaluated by your supervisor to ensure that you understand and are able to meet the performance expectations. The probationary period is considered to by the employee’s first 90 days. Probationary periods may be extended or reenacted on a case by case basis.
If you decide to terminate your employment, it is recommended that you give at least a two-week notice to your supervisor in order to maintain a mutually respectful relationship. All resignations must be submitted in writing (email) to the Company Owner.
Computers and Technology
The Company’s information technology systems and the information served by those systems are valuable and vital assets to the Company. The Information Systems Security Policy includes all computer systems (hardware and software), communication systems (networks, telecommunications, video, and audio broadcast systems), and information (processes, documents, data, text images, etc.) in any form on any media.
The Company’s information technology systems and data that reside on them are Company property and may only be used in compliance with applicable law and Company and department policy. As a user of information resources, you are responsible for knowing about appropriate and ethical use of information in all environments you access, protecting the information you are using from corruption or unauthorized disclosure, working in such a manner as to consider the access rights of others, and following applicable guidelines concerning the use and nondisclosure of passwords and other means of access control.
The Company has the right to monitor all of its information technology system and to access, monitor, and intercept any communications, information, and data created, received, stored, viewed, accessed or transmitted via those systems. Staff employees should have no expectation of privacy in any communications and/or data created, stored, received, or transmitted on, to, or from the Company’s information technology systems.
ABC Company provides the following kinds of leave after the employee has completed their 90 day probationary period. Any leave prior to 90 days will be up to the discretion of management to approve on a case-by-case basis.
All leave is on a use-it-or-lose it basis that resets on January 1st of each year.
ABC Company defines “vacation leave” as leave needed for personal trips such as vacation, birthdays, weddings, etc. ABC Company provides the following amount of vacation time for employees unless otherwise specified in their employment agreement:
0-3 years tenure = 10 days or 80 hours
4-5 years tenure = 15 days or 120 hours
6+ years tenure = 20 days or 160 hours
Vacation leave should be requested in advance through our payroll system under your employee account.
ABC Company complies with local, state and federal laws for sick leave.
In accordance, we offer 5 days of paid sick leave annually to all employees. Sick leave can be used for personal illness or for caring for the illness of a family member.
After 2 consecutive days of sick leave, ABC Company reserves the right to request proof of illness.
Sick leave should be requested by 8 am on the day in question via email or phone call to your supervisor (please note: text messages do not suffice).
As a company that is under 50 employees, please note that we are not required to comply with the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). However, we view everyone at ABC as a family and should a situation come up where up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave might be required for a personal or family medical issue, we will review providing unpaid leave or flexible working arrangements on a case-by-case basis for employees in good standing.
ABC Company offers up to 3 days or 72 hours for bereavement leave for employees with an additional 1 day or 8 hours for funerals that require travel of over 100 miles.
ABC Company reserves the right to require proof of need for bereavement leave.
ABC Company provides the following paid holidays:
- New Year’s Day
- President’s Day
- Memorial Day
- Independence Day
- Labor Day
- Thanksgiving Day & the Friday after Thanksgiving
- Christmas Day
It is up to the management’s discretion to have spontaneous half days on days like Wednesday before Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Good Friday, etc. These will be announced 2 weeks prior.
If a holiday falls on a weekend, the Friday before or Monday after will be provided as the day off instead.
Progressive Disciplinary Policy
Corrective action is a process designed to identify and correct problems that affect an employee’s work performance and/or the overall performance of the department. The progressive corrective action process should be handled consistently within each unit and for each problem.
The Progressive Corrective Action Process refers to the following actions:
- Counseling or verbal warning;
- Written reprimand and warning;
- Suspension pending investigation and final determination;
- Specific warning of discharge; and
Depending on the situation, any step may be repeated, omitted, or taken out of sequence; however, the Company reserves the right to effect immediate termination should the situation be warranted. Each case is considered on an individual basis.
Typically, a preliminary meeting is held with the employee to allow the employee an opportunity to understand the nature of the concern and to explain his/her position on the matter. If necessary, the corrective action documentation would then be put together which would summarize the issue, taking into account any additional information the employee may have provided during the preliminary meeting.
When issuing corrective action, there should be clear and direct communication between the employee and his/her immediate supervisor. This communication should include a meeting between the employee and the supervisor.
In the case of serious misconduct, an employee may be suspended and/or discharged on the first offense. Serious workplace misconduct includes, but is not limited to:
- Behavior/language of a threatening, abusive or inappropriate nature;
- Misuse, damage to or loss of Company property;
- Falsification, alteration or improper handling of Company-related records;
- Unsatisfactory customer service;
- Disclosure or misuse of confidential information;
- Unauthorized possession or concealment of weapons;
- Insubordination (e.g., refusal to carry out a direct assignment);
- Misuse of the Company’s electronic information systems;
- Possession, use, sale, manufacture, purchase or working under the influence of non-prescribed or illegal drugs, alcohol, or other intoxicants.
The Employee Handbook contains important information about the Company, and I understand that I should consult the Company Owner, or your supervisor, regarding any questions not answered in the handbook. I have entered into my employment relationship with the Company voluntarily, and understand that there is no specified length of employment. Accordingly, either the Company or I can terminate the relationship at will, at any time, with or without cause, and with or without advance notice.
Since the information, policies, and benefits described herein are subject to change at any time, I acknowledge that revisions to the handbook may occur, except to the Company’s policy of employment-at-will. All such changes will generally be communicated through official notices, and I understand that revised information may supersede, modify, or eliminate existing policies. Only the President of the Company has the ability to adopt any revisions to the policies in this handbook.
Furthermore, I understand that this handbook is neither a contract of employment nor a legally-binding agreement. I have had an opportunity to read the handbook, and I understand that I may ask my supervisor any questions I might have concerning the handbook. I accept the terms of the handbook. I also understand that it is my responsibility to comply with the policies contained in this handbook, and any revisions made to it. I further agree that if I remain with the Company following any modifications to the handbook, I hereby accept and agree to such changes.
I have received a copy of the Company’s Employee Handbook on the date listed below. I understand that I am expected to read the entire handbook. Additionally, I will sign the two copies of this Acknowledgment of Receipt, retain one copy for myself, and return one copy to the Company’s representative listed below on the date specified. I understand that this form will be retained in my personnel file.
Signature of Employee Date
Printed Name of Employee
Why Do I Need An Employee Handbook?
An employee handbook’s main function is that it creates clear, set expectations for your employees from their very first day working for you. Having clear expectations has a number of benefits for you, the small business owner:
It makes it easier to deal with (or fire) bad hires/employees
You have a clear document about the expectations of an employee and the steps of progressive discipline (if you want to take them). It eliminates the “I didn’t know” defense and gives you something to point to.
It reduces the chances of any litigation
This is a signed document and, while not a legal agreement, it provides a solid rubric for you as an employer to reduce legal issues. You can have an even stronger legal backbone by also having an employment agreement, which we can provide a free template for here.
It creates a dialogue with your employees (and managers)
When you have a baseline, like an employee handbook, you are able to then start a dialogue when special cases arise. Also, the employee handbook creates some structure and gives clarity to policies. Documenting something, like an expense reimbursement policy, makes it more likely that it will be followed by your team in the long run.
For example, as your company grows, you might need to add additional policies, like maternity leave. Having a rubric to begin with really can help your company grow from a cultural standpoint.
What Concerns Should I Have about Having an Employee Handbook?
Here are the top 3 concerns and how to overcome them when you have an employee handbook. In my professional HR opinion, having a handbook and the benefits of it FAR outweigh any of these concerns when implemented and upheld correctly.
Resistance to new policies
If you are implementing a handbook amid some chaos, which might be why you are doing it, be prepared to be a bit unpopular for awhile. However, the storm will settle, as long as your new policies are reasonable (i.e. getting expense reimbursements under control is one popular reason for a handbook).
How to overcome this: The week after the handbook is implemented, do some fun on the fly, like order everyone lunch or invite people to happy hour on the company. A few more weeks after, do something again. At that second event, tell them thank you for their cooperation with the new policies.
Getting managers to abide by it
You managers need to lead by example and follow the rules set out in the handbook in order for the rest of the staff to take them seriously.
For example, if you are a cafe, and your GM is always late, but everyone else is now subject to a progressive discipline policy for being tardy per the new handbook, you might have some issues.
How to overcome this: Train your managers in the handbook and draw a hard line as a business owner. Be firm that this handbook applies to everyone, period.
Keeping it up to date
The number one issue I saw when I was an in-house HR manager was out of date handbooks that then led to policy issues with the employee base (or with new hires). Commit to editing the document every 3-6 months. Set a reminder on your calendar and skim through, making sure that everything still makes sense. If you need to change something, follow our guidelines on how to do that.
How to overcome this: Set a reminder in your calendar every 90 days to re-read the handbook and update any policies as needed. An hour is all you need to make sure that you are up to date!
You’ve gotta play the field evenly and fairly
The handbook being in place means no playing favorites. Everyone deserves equal treatment, but you’ll need to make sure of this in order for the handbook to be taken seriously by the rest of the team. You as the small business owner and your managers need to uphold the handbook to the highest extent, and that means playing by the rules you set.
How to overcome this: Notice if there has been some favoritism or criticism going on that is unwarranted. Make an effort to rectify this as soon as possible.
For example, if Jenny always gets to be the Shift Manager when someone calls out, try someone else who has been performing well recently. Don’t just stick by your old patterns.
What to Include in Your Employee Handbook
In our employee handbook sample, we put in 9 sections that we view as critical to any handbook:
- Welcome/Introduction to Company & Values – Your company’s mission statement, why/how you were founded, and some insight into your culture can go here.
- Confidentiality & Non-Disclosure (or Non-Compete, depending on your business and location) – If you have a separate agreement drawn up by attorneys, you can just mention that here. However, if you do not, you want to make sure that you are clear on employees being expected to respect confidentiality of business materials. The non-compete restricts employees from starting competing businesses if they leave your company or are terminated.
- Anti-Discrimination Policy – This is standard in every handbook and keeps you compliant with federal law (especially if you are over 15 employees).
- Compensation & Benefits Policies – Everyone wants to know how they are paid and what benefits they will receive. Address the pay schedule and health benefits, retirement benefits, and other perks in this section.
- General Employment Information – This makes crystal clear the probationary period (if your business has one) and what steps are taken if an employee wants to quit. This is also likely where you’ll mention at will employment, which means employers are free to terminate (as long as there’s no discrimination) and employees to leave without cause or notice.
- Computers & Technology Policy – Many employees don’t know that if they sign onto personal email at the office, technically, you then have the rights to look at it. Tell them here and now and advise them to keep personal and work separate (or set up a firewall).
- Leave Policies – Don’t leave people in the dark. Let employees know what your paid time off, sick leave, maternity leave, and other leave policies are and what they can be used for, as well as holidays (and this will save you LOADS of time answering questions too!).
- Progressive Discipline Policy – For the business owner, this is a good section to have to not only lay out your steps for discipline, but also outline for your employees the steps you may or may not take, making firing situations clear.
- Signature Page – The signature page makes the handbook official as best as it can be. While not a legal agreement, this is still a signed copy of understanding the company’s policies and is a strong document.
The 9 sections above provide the backbone of a good handbook. Their strongest point is that they protect a business owner in their hiring and firing decisions, as well as in things like at will employment, computers and that anything done on them is yours, and confidentiality.
There are some more optional items you may want to include depending on where your business is located and your company culture.
Additional Employee Handbook Sections
Below is a table of additional sections you might include in your handbook based on your location or employee demographics (e.g. all millennials).
|Potential Section||Why You Might Need It|
|Employee Benefits Policies||If you provide benefits, you should outline them at a bird’s eye view in here, including how much you cover for the employees and what kind of benefits are provided. Details like the exact cost of the PPO versus the HMO are meant for a separate document.|
|Work Schedules||If you have shift work or set office hours, lay them out here. You might want to supplement with a policy on what is defined as being tardy and what is defined as leaving early.|
|Employment Classification||The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is becoming more strict on exempt versus non-exempt, part time versus full time, and 1099 statuses. You might want to include these definitions if you have staff that could be on the bubble or who might not understand if they are eligible for overtime.|
|Expense Reimbursement Policy||If you have a lot of client outings or employees are constantly needing to purchase things for work, you’ll want a solid expense reimbursement policy upfront to prevent issues.|
|Company Travel Guidelines||If your team travels for work at all, outlining the policies and the per diem upfront is important. You may also put in the policy if there is one person who should be booking the company travel, like the Office Manager.|
|Safety and Security||Do people work late and close up the shop (or open it early)? You’ll want to outline the safety and lock up procedures in the handbook.|
|Ergonomic Setup Guidelines||If you have a largely remote and/or sedentary team, an ergonomic setup guidelines section can provide them insight to prevent back, eye, and other issues that plague Americans and cause them to miss work at an alarming rate.|
|Remote Working Policy||Do you let people work from home or from their lake house or wherever? A remote policy will save you a lot of headaches in knowing if someone is online or offline and what you expect when someone is working remotely.|
|Dress Code||Even with casual dress becoming mainstream, outlining what is work-appropriate can be useful if you have a lot of young employees or if clients routinely come into the office.|
|Illegal Substances & Alcohol Policy||If you have a lot of young team members and happy hours occur often, or client events that have them, you’ll want to outline what is appropriate and what is not for these events.|
|Weapons Policy||Does your state allow closed or open weapons to be carried? Your landlord may specifically ban them (as can you as an employer). You’ll want a policy to prevent any guns in the workplace.|
|Marijuana Policy||Alaska, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Washington have all legalized marijuana use. You will want to have a policy on marijuana in all forms if you have an office or workers in the those states.|
In order to determine if you need to include these sections, think about the following.
Where is your business?
You’ll want to consider your location when thinking about what sections you need to include. Some examples are:
- Does your city or state require sick leave?
- Is marijuana legal in your state?
- Is open or closed carry of a firearm legal in your state?
What is the size of your business?
You’ll want to consider the number of employees you have when thinking about what sections you need to include. Some examples are:
- If you have over 50 employees, you will need to oblige by the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
- If you have over 50 employees, you will need to provide health insurance.
- Depending on both size and location, you may need a maternity leave policy.
What are the demographics of your employees?
You’ll want to consider the makeup of your employees (age, gender, tenure with the company) you have when thinking about what sections you need to include. Some examples are:
- Do you have a lot of workers who are part time or contractors?
- Do you have a lot of young employees? Employees over 40?
- Do you have a lot of remote employees?
These 3 points affect if your business needs to provide overtime, if you need to perhaps have policies based around alcohol at social events… a lot of things can come into play when you look at the demographics of your team.
What is the culture of your company?
You’ll want to consider your company culture you have when thinking about what sections you need to include. Some examples are:
- Do you need a dress code?
- Do clients come into the office or do people regularly meet them out for dinner/ drinks?
- Does everyone at your company have access to your social media?
Once you have decided what sections you need for your handbook, you can use our free employee handbook sample and add on where necessary.
You may also want to consult an outside attorney or Human Resources consultant to look over your final draft of the handbook (or to help you write it). You can find great freelancers on Avvo who do this and at a reasonable price!
How Do I Tell my Team and Make it Official?
You will want to hold a company-wide face-to-face (or video) meeting. An hour should be plenty of time for this meeting, and having snacks at the meeting can make the policy reading a little more palatable.
You will want to explain the handbook, answer questions on it, and then distribute it. You will also want to collect signature pages within 48 hours of this meeting and document them in personnel files (keeping a simple checklist with names makes this easier to track). You may also use an electronic signature platform, like RightSignature.
Some companies only have an acknowledgement form and leave it up to the employees to read the handbook. However, it is our best practice to have an actual meeting with employees, especially if you are a business like a restaurant, hair salon, or a real estate agency. Your handbook may be a big difference from what is happening in the office, and you want it to be crystal clear that it’s time for policies to change. Having a meeting is a better way to set that paradigm shift.
Employee Handbook vs. Employment Agreements
As we said earlier, an employee handbook is not a legal agreement. However, employment agreements are legal and valid agreements that can be upheld in court and look very different than an employee handbook.
However, the 3 main differences between an employee handbook versus and employee agreement are deeper than just one being a legal agreement. The focus of the documents is completely different on 3 levels:
- The audience
- An employee handbook goes to everyone and might even be in a group setting.
- The employment agreement is signed before an individual employee begins work and may have clauses unique to the employee’s role with the company (e.g. a creative role where the company will then own their work).
- The language
- An employee handbook, though not riveting reading, is pretty understandable for most people.
- The employment agreement though sounds like a foreign language since it’s written by a lawyer and full of legal terms.
- The topics covered
- An employee handbook will cover everything from work shifts to how to call in sick.
- An employment agreement covers things like confidentiality, at-will employment, and other legal-focused topics.
How Do I Change or Update My Current Employee Handbook? (Or Once I Have One)
One of the most important aspects of having an employee handbook is keeping it up to date. You need the handbook to be current with federal, state, and local laws (for example, sick leave law) as well as current with policies that develop informally in the office.
For example, perhaps the management has informally agreed that employees can text in if they are sick. If your handbook currently says texting is unacceptable (like in our template), you will want to change your handbook.
Here are the 3 steps for implementing a change in your handbook:
Step 1: Review the handbook.
Review your handbook every 3-6 months and make sure that the policy is in alignment with the company’s norms and with your state, local, and federal laws. If you need help on keeping up to date with HR law, SHRM is a great organization to subscribe to their newsletters (you can choose to receive info only on the topics you care about).
If you found you need to update something, continue on to step 2:
Step 2: Write the change or new policy.
Make the change in the handbook with clear, concise language.
Step 3: If it’s a HUGE change… Have a meeting.
For a large change, such as a change in compensation or leave policy, you will want to hold a company-wide face-to-face (or video) meeting. You will want to explain the policy, answer questions on it, and then distribute it. If it’s a very controversial policy, you may even have your employees sign and date that they received and understand the update and keep a copy of that signed document for your personnel files.
Step 4: If it’s a small change, send an email announcement.
For a small change or something that is more informal/already done (e.g. the texting example above) and needed to just be written down, send an email announcement to the entire team announcing the policy and providing a Word or PDF copy of the latest handbook.
The Bottom Line
Employee handbooks are useful to have since they not only protect the business owner, but they also provide a good baseline for employees to understand your company culture, what’s expected of them, and how things work at the company in a big picture sense. Having a good handbook can save you time, money, and headaches in answering employees’ questions.