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How to Write an Employee Handbook

What is an employee handbook? This business document serves as a guide, helping new employees to orient themselves in your company.

This means that when a new employee joins, you can show them what you expect from them, for instance your policy on smoking, and also what they can expect from you – to be treated fairly and without discrimination.

Your employee handbook is made up of rules, policies, procedures, and other information that an employer would like employees to know.

It shares important company information, sets guidelines and helps resolve conflicts in the workplace.

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Employee Handbook: Purpose

The purpose of the employee handbook is to help new employees understand your core values.

This document outlines what is expected of all new recruits. It documents different aspects of the company’s operations so there are no ‘assumptions’ on what an employee may or may not do.

For legal reasons, you need to develop an Employee Handbook that covers all such areas, for example, employee benefits, discrimination polices, work hours, and Social Media policies. 

It's also an ongoing reference document for all employees and need to be updated regularly. For example, many clients I work with are writing Social Media policies as these form part of employee onboarding.

Employee Handbook: Contents

So, what goes into an Employee Handbook?

The following outline lists typical chapters and content included in an employee handbook. The list is by no means exhaustive. Subjects to be covered may include:

1. Introduction

1.1. History

1.2. Goals, Values and Beliefs

1.3. Equal Opportunity

2. Employment Status and Records

2.1. Confidentiality

2.2. Conflict of Interest

2.3. Employment Categories

2.4. Personnel Records

2.5. Probation Policy

2.6. Attendance Policy

2.7. Employee Referrals

2.8. Employment of Relatives

2.9. Introductory (Probationary) Period

2.10. Job Postings & Promotion

2.11. Background Checks

2.12. Criminal Records Check

2.13. At Will Employment

2.14. Americans with Disabilities Act

2.15. Immigration Law Compliance

2.16. Anniversary Date

2.17. Personnel Records

2.18. Change of Personal Data

2.19. Personal Property

2.20. Medical Status & Attention

2.21. Termination, Resignation and Discharge

2.22. Transfers & Relocation

2.23. Unions

2.24. Use of Company Property

2.25. Holidays

2.26. Vacation

2.27. Data Protection

2.28. Recruitment Policy

2.29. Promotion Policy

2.30. Interviewing Policy

2.31. Performance Reviews

2.32. Termination Policy

2.33. Dismissal Policy

2.34. Redundancy Policy

2.35. Retirement Plans

3. Employee Benefit Programs

3.1. Employee Benefits

3.2. Life Insurance

3.3. Medical Policy

3.4. Sick Leave Policy

3.5. Long Term Illness Policy

3.6. Grievance Policy

3.7. Equal Opportunities Policy

3.8. Education Assistance

3.9. Employee Assistance Program

3.10. Disability Insurance

3.11. Reimbursement for Parking and Taxis

3.12. Retirement Saving Plan

3.13. Travel & Expenses

4. Timekeeping / Payroll

4.1. General Pay Information

4.2. Payroll

4.3. Payroll Deductions

4.4. Pay Schedule

4.5. Working Hours

4.6. Work Breaks

4.7. Outside Employment

4.8. Overtime

4.9. Performance Evaluations

4.10. Salary Increases

4.11. Time Records

4.12. Time Clock and Time Cards

4.13. Double Employment

4.14. Time in Lieu

4.15. Salary Policy

4.16. Expenses Policy

5. Anti Discrimination and Harassment

5.1. Americans with Disabilities Act

5.2. Equal Opportunity Policy

5.3. Policy Prohibiting Harassment and Discrimination

5.4. Prohibited Behavior

5.5. Harassment Policy

5.6. Sexual Harassment Policy

5.7. Harassment by Non-employees

5.8. Complaint Procedure and Investigation

5.9. Retaliation

5.10. Training

5.11. Employment at Will

6. Work Conditions and Hours

6.1. Attendance & Punctuality

6.2. Bonus Compensation

6.3. Breaks

6.4. Flexible Work Hours & Telecommuting

6.5. Time Keeping

6.6. Tidy Desk Policy

6.7. Dress Code

6.8. Personal Property

7. Leave of Absence

7.1. Family and Medical Leave

7.2. Personal Leave

7.3. Parental Leave

7.4. Bereavement Leave

7.5. Time Off From Work In Connection With Court Cases

7.6. Time Off To Vote

7.7. Military Leave

7.8. Jury Service Policy

7.9. Pregnancy-Related Absences

7.10. Maternity Leave Policy

7.11. Paternity Leave Policy

7.12. Compassionate Leave Policy

7.13. Short-term Disability

7.14. Continuation of Medical/COBRA

7.15. Worker’s Compensation

8. Employee Conduct & Disciplinary Actions

8.1. Conduct Standards & Discipline

8.2. Gross Misconduct Policy

8.3. Fraudulent Activities

8.4. Reporting Misconduct Policy

8.5. Disciplinary Policy

8.6. Misconduct Policy

8.7. Drug and Alcohol Policy

8.8. Anti-Substance Abuse

8.9. Drug Testing

8.10. Company Equipment and Vehicles

8.11. Company Property

8.12. Dating in the Workplace

8.13. Ethical and Legal Business Practices

8.14. Grievances

8.15. Insider Trading

8.16. Progressive Discipline

8.17. Smoking Policy

8.18. Workplace Solicitation

8.19. Zero Tolerance for Workplace Violence

9. IT Policies

9.1. Computer Usage Policy

9.2. Misuse of Computing Privileges Policy

9.3. Email Policy

9.4. Prohibited Internet Usage Policy

9.5. Remote Access Policy

9.6. Bulletin Boards

9.7. Communication with Press or Media

9.8. Software Policy

9.9. Use of Company Communication Systems

9.10. Data Protection Policy

10. Health and Safety

10.1. Safety

10.2. Fire Evacuation Procedure

10.3. Fire Safety

10.4. Security

10.5. Emergency Measures (Inclement Weather)

10.6. First Aid Policy

10.7. Smoking

10.8. Hygiene Policy

11. Miscellaneous Policies

11.1. Visitors Policy

11.2. Welfare Policy

11.3. Housekeeping Facilities Policy

11.4. Open Door Policy

11.5. Company Training Policy

11.6. Other Benefits

How to Write an Employee Handbook

Here are seven ways you can write a better, more useful handbook.

  1. Use plain English writing techniques. This helps your team write in an easy to digest style that’s appreciated by all readers.
  2. Remove jargon and buzzwords. No one likes to be spoken down to. Instead, show the readers what you mean and spell out any acronyms that need to be clarified.
  3. Write in a positive tone. Even though these are formal policies, you can write in a positive tone and reduce any negativity associated with such documents.
  4. Write in the present tense. There is a tendency for policy writers to write in the past, future or conditional tense. Keep it anchored in the here and now.
  5. Write short policies. If you need to expand on a point, try to use bullet lists and tables to break up the text. Make it easy to scan the text and find the information they need.
  6. Use ‘You’ when speaking to the reader. You don’t need to write, “The employee shall etc.” They are reading the document right now. It’s in front of them. Remember these are people you want to enjoy working for you. Drop the ‘shall’ if possible.
  7. List Benefits. Don’t focus solely on the rules and regulation. Highlight the positives about working for the company.


Remember to update it every two years, at least. As your business develops and work practices change, make sure to adapt your policies. For example, write new policies for areas such as Social Media, virtual workers, and mobile employees.

PS: If you have any questions about writing your Employee Handbook, please send me an email.


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