HR Specialist

Employee Handbooks

In Human Resources on December 14, 2009 at 9:47 am

Many of us who manage small organizations consciously try to operate without the rules and regulations of large companies. However, as organizations grow, issues often become more complex, resulting in the need to define standards and policies. Even with as few as six employees, stating expectations and policies in writing helps prevent misunderstandings and ensure fairness. A properly composed, well written employee handbook is an effective way to meet this need to communicate information to all employees.


While headings vary, a handbook typically covers the following:

  • Welcome and Employer Information
  • Employment Policies and Issues
  • Compensation
  • Benefits
  • Safety and Security

If you don’t have a handbook, or you copied and pasted from a colleague’s handbook, or if you have not updated your handbook to reflect the recent employment law changes and technology advances, now could be a good time to take on this project. The goal is not a lengthy, legalistic set of rules; the goal is a comprehensive, easy to read resource for employees and managers. Developing an employee handbook provides an opportunity to examine and align company practices, policies and values.

At Cardinal Services, our perspective is that effective employee handbooks:

  • Express company history, mission, values and culture;
  • Clearly communicate information that is relevant and important to employees;
  • Address federal and state employment laws;
  • Articulate company expectations and employee benefits;
  • Help to orientate new employees, and answer many typical questions;
  • Guide managers to consistent policy application and legal compliance.

Legally, it is important to include prudent disclaimers, such as at-will, non-contract, right to revise; etc; it is also important to write in a clear non-technical style that encourages employees to read and aids understanding. While you do not want your attorney to write the handbook, you may want him or her to review it. Organize the handbook in sections and include a table of contents. While headings vary, a handbook typically covers the following:

  • Welcome and Employer Information
  • Employment Policies and Issues
  • Compensation
  • Benefits
  • Safety and Security

Use language that retains flexibility in policies as appropriate and include only policies and procedures you are prepared to follow. Even if you post the handbook electronically, include an acknowledgment of receipt for employees to sign.

When introducing a handbook to current employees, explain that the handbook was developed to clarify expectations, procedures and policies – not because of any particular conduct or problem. Before distributing to all employees, brief managers and supervisors on the contents, as employees will expect them to be able to answer questions they might have.

Every year, new laws affect the workplace and a handbook can become out of date quickly. In addition, your organization can grow in size and cross a threshold where certain laws now apply, or shrink to the point where laws that had applied to the organization are no longer applicable. Plan to periodically review, revise, and update your handbook.


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