This article is part of a larger series on Hiring.
An employee handbook is a reference document for employees to learn about key company policies like benefits, dress code, and work schedules. It also covers employee rules and expected behaviors. For business owners, maintaining an up-to-date employee handbook ensures employees always have access to accurate companywide information regardless of their manager or department. Likewise, a comprehensive handbook can help supervisors manage employees more consistently.
Free Employee Handbook Sample
Using an employee handbook template for small businesses can simplify the process of creating your own while ensuring that you include all of the necessary sections. You can also use a dedicated employee handbook builder or work with your current HR services provider to draft a handbook that fits your needs.
Our free downloadable employee handbook sample was created by one of our in-house HR experts and covers policies all businesses should consider for their own handbook. We picked these sections because they’re valid for small business owners in all 50 US states.
Keep in mind, however, that the sample doesn’t cover all of your business’s unique policies. What’s more, it may not be in-depth enough to meet certain state requirements, like mandated sick leave or Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) protected classes (e.g., sexual orientation or identity). Before you finalize your handbook, check local laws—like those governing sexual harassment—to make sure your handbook is complete.
Sections to Include in Your Employee Handbook
There are several sections that business owners should include in their employee handbooks. For example, make sure the handbook addresses corporate culture and important legal documents—like nondisclosure agreements and policies—that will protect you and your employees.
When drafting an employee handbook, consider including these sections:
- Introduction to Company and Values: Use the beginning of the employee handbook to share your company’s mission statement, as well as why and how you were founded.
- Touch on Company Culture: Company culture is an expression of a business’s personality and atmosphere. Use the employee handbook as an opportunity to describe the leadership style, mission, values, and other elements of the company’s identity.
- Nondisclosure and Noncompete Agreements: A nondisclosure agreement (NDA)—or confidentiality agreement—protects a business’s proprietary information by limiting the information an employee can share with others. A noncompete agreement prevents terminated employees from taking your business’s clients or starting a competing business.
- Anti-discrimination Policy: This portion of an employee handbook helps you comply with federal labor laws that aim to prevent discrimination in the workplace. Use a portion of your company’s employee handbook to outline relevant federal anti-discrimination policies, as well as any additional requirements imposed by state law.
- Compensation and Benefits: An employee handbook is an excellent place to detail how the company pays employees, how frequently, and on what day(s) of the month. From here, you can also go into detail about additional perks, like flextime, commuter benefits, and health insurance.
- General Employment Information: This section should clearly define a company’s probationary period (where applicable) and the steps that should be taken if an employee wants to quit. Use this section to detail the concept of at-will employment as well. If your company hires at-will employees, you or the employee is free to terminate the employment relationship at any time and for any reason.
- Computer and Technology Policy: Use your employee handbook to spell out your rights as an employer to view and access electronic documents and company electronics like computers. This is also a good place to establish a policy for updating passwords, provide tips for keeping passwords secure, and clarify your cellphone usage policy.
- Leave Policies: Let employees know what your paid time off, sick leave, parental leave, and other leave policies are and when they apply. This is also a good place to list company holidays and define the jury duty policy.
- Progressive Discipline Policy: For the business owner, this is a good section to define steps that will be taken under the company’s progressive discipline policy. It should also clearly identify prohibited behaviors and include a reminder that at-will employment remains in effect, regardless of the discipline policy.
- Signature: The signature section of an employee handbook verifies that the employee received a copy of the document, read it, and understood it. This step makes the employee take it more seriously and may help as a defense in case of a wrongful termination lawsuit. Services like LegalZoom can help you draft an employee handbook acknowledgment form.
Depending on the nature of your business, it may also make sense to include some or all of the following sections:
- Attendance policies
- Expense reimbursement procedures
- Alcohol, weapons, and drug policies
- Dress code
- Remote work guidelines
Legal Considerations When Creating an Employee Handbook
In addition to keeping your company’s employee handbook relevant by including content that’s tailored to your business’s size, location, culture, and types of employee, consider these legal factors:
Where To Get an Employee Handbook
Before you start developing an employee handbook from scratch, consider that you may already be working with a provider that can offer you an employee handbook sample, like our free template.
Employee Handbook Costs
Creating an employee handbook for your company may involve working with in-house HR professionals, a consultant, or an attorney specializing in employment. There are also annual costs associated with the maintenance of an employee handbook, but they are worth it because your employees will have access to the most up-to-date resources.
You may encounter these common costs and services when drafting an employee handbook:
Outsourced HR Services
If you don’t have an in-house HR team, HR firms and attorneys can create a customized employee handbook. By hiring a third party that specializes in human resources and employee communications, you can protect yourself from problems that can result from a vague, incomplete, or misleading employee handbook. Depending on your needs and location, you could pay up to $5,000 for this service.
Employee handbooks that are written by business owners or HR professionals may benefit from legal review. This type of review can ensure compliance with relevant employment law and protect business owners in case of an employee lawsuit. However, an attorney may charge hundreds of dollars an hour—especially in a large market. If you don’t want to hire an attorney, companies like LegalZoom offer packages that make it easy to create a handbook by answering a few simple questions. The Standard Plan starts at $35 per month, and LegalZoom’s specialists can also review documents for compliance.
In addition to drafting an employee handbook, commit time every year to updating the document to reflect current policies and legal requirements. Then, have your lawyer review the updated version, and schedule employee training to make sure everyone is on the same page. Again, if you don’t want to incur legal fees, consider a monthly membership like the one available through LegalZoom.
Employee handbooks are an important way to protect business owners while helping employees understand company culture, job expectations, and current policies. Having a good handbook can save you time, money, and headaches in answering employees’ questions. What’s more, a well-written handbook can serve as a defense in case of a wrongful termination lawsuit.