8 Crucial Things to Include in your Employee Handbook

Keep your policies current.

Does your employee handbook reflect the ever-changing laws and regulations that affect your workplace? Experts recommend you update your employee handbook every year to give your employees the most current information — and keep your policies current. Here are eight ways to help you do just that.

1. Acknowledgment: Getting sign-off and agreement from employees

On the signature page of your handbook, include statements that the employee:

  • Has read and comprehends the current version of the handbook 
  • Agrees to follow your policies now and in the future
  • Understands that the handbook replaces any previous versions
  • Understands they are employed at will
  • Understands the handbook is not a contract
  • Understands you may change your policies in the future

Remember to include contact information in case the employee has questions.

2. Wage and hour issues

Misunderstandings about money can lead to conflicts with your employees. Explicitly defining what is and isn’t covered upfront can help avoid any problems later. Consider including statements:

  • Confirming you will pay employees for all hours worked
  • Clarifying when employees are required to get a supervisor’s approval before working overtime
  • Explaining whether employees are completely relieved of their duties during unpaid breaks (for example, whether a receptionist on an unpaid lunch break is relieved of greeting visitors or answering phone calls)
  • Clarifying whether employees are paid for attending business meetings during lunch, participating in in-service trainings or taking short breaks
3. Paid time off and leaves of absence

Paid time off (PTO) is an attractive perk for your employees. But just how much are they entitled to? Can they lose it? And what about paid leaves? Your employee handbook should precisely outline what types of leave an employee is entitled to. Be sure to align your policy with current law. Here are some questions to consider:

  • Are vacation time, sick time and personal time combined into one bucket of PTO?
  • Does your PTO policy provide incentives? For example, are employees rewarded for using PTO during seasons when business is slower?
  • Does the handbook include information about what happens to PTO when employment ends? Is unused PTO applied to the employee’s last paycheck?
  • If the Family and Medical Leave Act applies to your business, does the handbook inform employees of their rights?
  • Is your equal employment opportunity (EEO) policy included?
  • Are all types of available leave listed? For example, have you included pregnancy leave, bereavement leave, paid sick leave, and time served as a juror or witness? Are they all paid?
4. Reasonable accommodations

The law requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations in certain situations. Clearly explain your EEO policy in the handbook, and include contact information for accommodation requests. 

5. At-will policy

If applicable, you may want to have a stand-alone at-will policy in addition to a mention of “at-will” on the signature page. Be sure to follow federal and state guidelines related to at-will employment.

An at-will policy should include:

  • An explanation of what “at-will” employment is
  • A statement confirming that “at-will” employment cannot be modified except by written agreement, such as a collective bargaining agreement
6. Discrimination, retaliation and harassment

A harmonious workplace yields great returns. Yet discrimination, harassment or retaliation can sometimes worm their way in. A thoughtful, thorough policy affirms your commitment to a legally compliant, respectful workplace. Work with local attorneys to ensure your policy complies with all applicable federal, state and local laws.

Your policy should include:

  • A section stating how employees are protected against discrimination, retaliation and harassment
  • A clear explanation of how employees can report instances of discrimination, retaliation or harassment (If there are alternative reporting paths, provide those details. For example, can your employees bring their concerns to another person besides their immediate manager? This prevents employees from feeling they have to complain to the very person they are having an issue with.)
  • A statement that illegal and disrespectful behavior will not be tolerated in your workplace, and that all complaints will be promptly and thoroughly investigated
7. Labor law issues

If you have union employees, include a statement that nothing in your handbook is intended to conflict with any collective bargaining agreements. Also, note that the National Labor Relations Act provides some protections even to employees who are not members of a union, such as the right to discuss their wages and other conditions of employment.

8. Other considerations

  • To make sure your employee handbook is as complete as possible, consider these questions:
  • Do you have a progressive discipline policy? If so, do you reserve the right to deviate from this policy?
  • Do you have a confidentiality policy that tells your employees what information they must keep private?
  • Do you reserve the right to inspect company computers and email accounts?
  • Do you have a social media or medical marijuana policy?
  • Do you have a policy regarding the use of generative artificial intelligence (AI) at work for internal and/or external purposes?
  • If you have other policies, does it make sense to incorporate them into the handbook? If so, include policies currently in effect.
  • Does the handbook contain any provisions that you’re unlikely to enforce? For example, does the handbook prohibit employees from using social media? Does it prohibit employees from talking on the phone while driving? If so, it’s best to exclude those provisions from the handbook.

Your employee handbook sets the stage for a rewarding relationship with employees. Keep it up-to-date and concise to help everyone stay on the same page.

Contact Us

Reach out to our Human Resources Consulting team for more information about employment-related rules and regulations or for help with drafting your handbook. You may also wish to consult with an employment lawyer familiar with all applicable state, local and federal laws to ensure your handbook policies are legally sound. 

This content is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing professional, financial, medical or legal advice. You should contact your licensed professional to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem. Please refer to your policy contract for any specific information or questions on applicability of coverage.

Please note coverage can not be bound or a claim reported without written acknowledgment from a OneGroup Representative.

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