Employee Handbook: An Official (and Easy) Template From Top HR Professionals

Deanna Lawley Kane
Employee Handbook: An Official (and Easy) Template From Top HR ProfessionalsEmployee Handbook: An Official (and Easy) Template From Top HR Professionals

An employee handbook, also known as an employee manual, is notoriously difficult to create. However as a company grows, it’s an important resource that can effectively communicate the company’s core values, benefits, policies and procedures, as well as build a positive workplace culture. 

As a general rule of thumb, company handbooks should be given to new hires on their first day. It should cover everything new employees need to know about the company that will help them transition into their new role.

“An employee handbook should include everything an employee needs to know to help them smoothly integrate into company culture or effortlessly go through the right administrative avenues,” says Ani Soghomonyan, Head of People Operations at Sensor Tower. In addition to an employee handbook covering the basics, from dress code to vacation days, it should establish clear workplace expectations and outline company rules and company policies protecting both the business and the employee. An employee handbook is also an opportunity to share the company's mission statement, and why it is a great place to work.

Several important employee handbook disclaimers to remember include:

  • An employee handbook is not a binding agreement. It’s a guide to introduce employees to the company, and to highlight culture insights and key benefits.
  • The policies in an employee handbook are subject to change. As policies change and new issues arise, the employee handbook may need to be revised. The policies in the employee handbook should serve as guidelines, as benefits and procedures may change at any given time.

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to an employee handbook, this customizable template covers six must-have elements to include. You can customize this sample template to align with your company’s goals, culture and values, or continue reading for further insight on creating an employee handbook.

Get the free employee handbook template here

Section 1: Introduction

The goal of this section is to welcome new employees to the company, and establish the purpose of the handbook. You can also highlight the company’s history and founder’s story as an introduction to the organization.

If your company has a mission statement, include it in this section to help employees better understand the organization's goals and motivations. Any additional company culture and employer brand insight is a good fit here as well, such as what the organization values in the workplace (i.e. continuous education, collaboration, lack of bureaucracy, etc.). In short, it should be the elevator pitch of why employees are excited to be on the team.

This section is also the most appropriate place to introduce the human resources team, and include their contact information.    

Potential subtopics to include:

  • Welcome to our Company 
  • Purpose of this Employee Handbook
  • Let's Communicate (employee relations policy, HR personnel and their contact info)                

Section 2: What You Can Expect From Us   

While not the most fun section of an employee handbook, this section outlines policy expectations that are crucial every employee have access to. It also can help protect the company from any potential employee issues. Because the U.S. Department of Labor requires some businesses to include an equal employment policy and nondiscrimination policy, it’s helpful to be familiar with your local employment laws. The U.S. Department of Labor includes employer information on federal laws regarding workplace issues at www.dol.gov

This section also stresses the severity of violating any discrimination or harassment policies.

Potential subtopics to include:

  • Equal Employment Opportunity and Reasonable Accommodations 
  • Policy Against Unlawful Harassment, Discrimination, and Retaliation
  • Employee Classification 

Section 3: Company Benefits

This is a section that many employees will automatically jump ahead to, as it outlines the perks and benefits. The items in this section such as compensation, paid holidays, time off policies and more, are often the things that employees care about most.

Since paid time-off is a crowd favorite, it’s important to outline the company’s PTO structure. This also includes time off allocated to employees for medical leave, family leave, vacation time and sick time. Leave policies are another area that may be mandated by the U.S. Department of Labor, so it’s important to be sure you’re complying with state laws.

Every employee wants to have a solid understanding of benefits, including health insurance, dental, vision, life insurance, commuter benefits, 401(k) plans, tuition reimbursement, stock, and other financial benefits. Compensation details such as the payment schedule are also helpful to include here.

Potential subtopics to include:            

  • Your Pay 
  • Overtime and Work Schedule (Non-Exempt Employees)
  • Paid Holidays
  • Flexible Time Off for Exempt Employees 
  • Workers’ Compensation Insurance 
  • Parental Leave Policy 
  • Paid Sick Leave
  • Military Personnel Policies

Section 4: What We Can Expect From You

This section sets expectations for how employees are expected to act in a professional setting, as well as how they are expected to represent the company both internally and externally.    

It can also serve as a code of conduct, and should provide employees with an overview of company ethics and how to help them navigate right from wrong in a company setting. This section can help you communicate values and expected employee behavior. Specific examples include dress code requirements or attendance policies.

Many companies require employees to sign a nondisclosure agreement and confidentiality policy in regards to proprietary, internal or client information. It’s important to your business to detail what is considered confidential, to ensure employees know, and acknowledge what they can’t share externally.

Digital communication, such as social media, blogging, or chatting, is an area that needs to have parameters. Establishing a policy around digital communication, especially social media, creates clear boundaries about what is acceptable and not acceptable to share and communicate about on behalf of the company, and the repercussions for violating all of the above.

Potential subtopics to include:            

  • Company Policies 
  • Absenteeism and Tardiness 
  • Computers, Databases, E-Mail, Voice Mail and the Internet 
  • Social Media, Social Networking and Blog Policy 
  • Conflict of Interest 
  • Protection of our Company’s Trade Secrets and Confidential Information 
  • Safety        

Section 5: Changes In Status  

When it’s time for employees to move on — both voluntarily and involuntarily — it’s important to have standard procedures in place that are in the best interest of both the employee and the company.     

Inevitably, employees will eventually part ways with the company. This section should include the steps that need to be taken if employees decide to leave on their own, as well as information on performance improvement plans, the progressive discipline policy, the termination policy, and what benefits they are entitled to if terminated.

Potential subtopics to include:        

  • Changes in Personnel Records
  • Outside Inquiries Concerning Employees 
  • Notice of Resignation
  • Exit Interview    

Section 6: To Sum It All Up

Finally, every employee handbook should conclude with a signature page that serves as an employee handbook acknowledgement and at-will agreement to confirm the employee has received and read the handbook. This signature page can also help protect the company if an employee happens to file a wrongful termination lawsuit. If you're using a presentation deck to deliver your company policies, make sure to include a PDF or written copy, so that you can allow for a signature for legal documentation.

While each employee handbook is unique to the organization’s culture and values, it should aim to include the following sections:

  • Introduction
  • What employees can expect from the company
  • Benefits
  • What the company expects from employees
  • Changes in status
  • Signature page
Deanna Lawley Kane

Deanna Lawley Kane

Deanna is a freelance writer, editor and strategist with over 10 years of experience. She is based in Chicago, IL.