Employee Policy Handbook – The Policies Every Company Should Have

April 23rd, 2014
Written by: Admin

A version of this article was originally prepared by TPO for one of its clients, an industry educational foundation.

How many times have you shuffled the development or refinement of an Employee Handbook to the bottom of your to-do list? You can leave it there—as long as you don’t have the need to:

Better Manage Your Employees

The process of writing an Employee Handbook will bring focus to your people practices before potential disruptive issues steal time and valuable resources from your bottom line. 

Stay Out of Court

The primary legal advantage of having an Employee Handbook is avoiding court. Readily available written policies offer managers and employees better opportunities to avoid misunderstandings that can lead to contentious, even litigious situations. When everybody knows exactly what the rules are and sees them followed every day, disputes are much less likely to occur.

Motivate Your Employees

Employees are best motivated when they know exactly what you expect of them and how they can improve their position in the company. Along with sections on employment law, paid time off (PTO), dress codes, and work hours, an employee handbook offers you the opportunity to resell your business to your employees. Sections on promotions and raises can show employees how their investment of hard work with the company will pay off down the road.

With these three goals in mind, the following sections outline a suggested process and content for an Employee Handbook.

Process for Developing an Employee Handbook

Before you outline the content of the handbook:

  • Think through and list the expectations for your employees that you want to highlight and how you want to describe what your employees can expect from your company.
  • Imagine how your culture can be communicated.
  • Decide who is in the best position to develop the handbook – it must be well written.
  • Know that the handbook must describe your legal obligations as an employer, and your employees’ rights, so you will need to have your Employee Handbook reviewed by an Employment Law Attorney.
  • Determine how you will introduce the handbook and assess any change management needs.
  • Avoid common pitfalls:
    • Filling the handbook with too much legal jargon and oodles of fine print. A handbook exists to communicate, not to legislate – be concise and clear.
    • Writing too formally and without context and/or texture. Use a casual voice, for example, replace the word “management” with “we” and provide real life examples of the standards of conduct you expect.
    • Silly, Orwellian rules, including rules like “no whispering” and “dress according to your salary” are ridiculous.
    • Talking down to your employees, not with them.

Now that you have been thoughtful about the process and the impression that you want your Employee Handbook to have on your people, it is time to decide what content to include. The lists below show the standard sections that your Employment Law Attorney will expect to see and suggested sections. Any additional content is up to you. 

Standard Sections/Core Policies

Suggested Sections/Policies

  • Welcome Statement/Company Information
  • Acknowledgement of Receipt of Handbook
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Statement
  • At-will Employment Clause
  • Benefits (an overview – don’t include specific benefit information as it may change annually)
  • Disciplinary Procedures
  • Disclaimer Clause (handbook is not a contract)
  • Discrimination & Harassment policy
  • Equal Employment Opportunity Statement
  • Ethics Hotline/Grievance Procedures
  • Family & Medical Leave (if applicable)
  • Hours of Work (including lunch and break rules)
  • Jury Duty
  • Military Leave
  • Safety & Security (OSHA) Statement
  • Vacation, Sick, Holiday, PTO (paid time off)
  • Company Property/Right to Search
  • Conflicts of Interest
  • Dress Code
  • Drug Free Workplace
  • Electronic Communications
  • Employee Records Access
  • Off-the-Job Conduct
  • Smoking
  • Social Media
  • Unemployment Insurance
  • Wage & Performance Review
  • Worker’s Compensation


You are now ready to jump in and get your Employee Handbook underway. A few final points are worth emphasis:

  • You must prepare an Employee Handbook receipt and acknowledgment form for your employees and all new employees to sign. This receipt should acknowledge that the employee has read and understands the policies and guidelines presented in the handbook.
  • When you make changes to the handbook, employees must receive a new copy and again, sign an acknowledgment of receipt.
  • Be sure to include a disclaimer in the handbook that makes clear that the contents are simply policies and guidelines, not a contract or implied contract with employees – consistent with an “employment at will” statement.
  • Your handbook cannot collect dust. Employment and labor laws will continue to change rapidly. Technology and innovation and the pressures they will put on the workplace will only intensify. You need to keep pace and be prepared to update your handbook regularly.

At the end of the day, an Employee Handbook is just that—a collection of written rules. Modeling the behaviors that personify the rules is what matters most. By enforcing your handbook rules, you will defend the integrity of your people who willingly comply.



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