As the needs of your company and employees change, you may find it necessary to create an employee handbook or to revise an existing one. An employee handbook is one of the most important communication tools between you and your employees. When well written and organized properly, it clearly sets forth your expectations for employees, describes what they can expect from your company, and lays out your legal obligations as an employer and your employee's rights. The following guide brings together tools to help you assemble an effective handbook.

Tools For Creating An Employee Handbook: The Basics

As an employer, you should be familiar with federal, state, and local employment laws that you must abide by -- some are even required to be posted in the company employee handbook. The U.S. Department of Labor spells out information for employers about federal laws that impact workplace issues on its website at

When relevant laws change on the federal, state, or local levels, employers may find it necessary to revise their employee handbooks and company policies. All company handbooks should contain a prominent disclaimer reserving the right to change the handbook as needed. However, before undertaking any major change, such as retracting the handbook or taking away benefits outlined in it, you must seek professional advice from an employment attorney.

While not a legal requirement, having employees sign non-disclosure agreements and conflict of interest statements helps to protect your trade secrets and proprietary company information. Be sure to include all company policies in the Employee Handbook and have your employees sign an Employee Handbook Receipt to acknowledge that they received the handbook and that it is their responsibility to be familiar with all company policies. To get started, you can reference this Employee Handbook Sample.

Tools For Creating An Employee Handbook:  Policies Required by Law

Policies required by law may vary from state to state. If you are unsure which policies are required, you should check with a human resources organization or an employment attorney. Many state labor departments also have listings on their websites for employers about laws they must abide by when doing business in the state.

Examples of policies that may be required by law include:

Family medical leave policies. The federal government's Family Medical Leave Act requires that employers of a certain size must provide employees with up to 12 weeks unpaid leave during any 12-month period for the birth or care of a child, to care for an immediate family member with a serious health condition, or if the employee has a serious health condition. Many states have their own policies regarding unpaid family leave, as well.

Equal employment and non-discrimination policies. As an employer, you must comply with the equal employment opportunity laws prohibiting discrimination and harassment, including the Americans with Disabilities Act. The U.S. Department of Labor requires many businesses to post information stating that the business follows non-discrimination and equal employment opportunity laws in hiring and promotion.

Worker's compensation policies. Many states require that employees be informed of worker's compensation policies in writing.

Among other laws that might require inclusion in employee handbooks are policies regarding accommodation of disabilities, policies on military leave, policies on breast-feeding accommodation, and crime victims leave policies.


Tools For Creating An Employee Handbook:  Your Company Policies

A good employee handbook records and communicates official rules and explains policies, benefits and other important information to which employees need to refer from time to time. Besides those required by law, other policies essential to a good handbook include:

Clearly explain to your employees that your company will make necessary deductions for federal and state taxes, as well as voluntary deductions for the company's benefits programs. In addition, you should include your company's legal obligations regarding overtime pay. You should also include information on pay schedules, performance reviews and salary increases, timekeeping, breaks, and bonus compensation.

Work Schedules
Describe your company's policy regarding work hours and schedules, including attendance, punctuality, and reporting absences. Also include your company's policy for flexible schedules and telecommuting.

Standards of Conduct
From dress codes to workplace violence, make sure you have thought out your expectations for how employees should conduct themselves in your workplace. In addition, it's important to remind your employees of their legal obligations, especially if your business is engaged in a regulated industry. A drug and alcohol policy and affirmative action policy are examples of policies related to standards of conduct that you should consider. Additionally, consider including tips for preventing harassment or how to recognize disability discrimination.

General Employment Information
Your employee handbook should include an a overview of your business and general employment policies covering employment eligibility, job classifications, employee referrals, employee records, job postings, probationary periods, termination and resignation procedures, transfers and relocation, and union information, if applicable.

Safety and Security
This section should describe your company's policy for creating a safe and secure workplace, including compliance with OSHA laws that require employees to report all accidents, injuries, potential safety hazards, safety suggestions and health and safety related issues to management. Safety policies should also include your company's policy regarding bad weather and hazardous community conditions. Finally, your security policy should include your commitment to creating a secure work environment, and your employee's responsibility for abiding by all physical and information security policies, such as locking file cabinets or computers when they aren't in use.

Computers and Technology
Computers and communication technology are essential tools for conducting business. However, employee misuse can have serious consequences for your company. Your employee handbook should include policies for appropriate computer and software use, a Voice Mail/E-mail/Internet Policy and steps employees should take to secure electronic information, especially any personal identifiable information you collect from your customers. Depending on the nature of the business your company conducts, you may also want to have a Social Media Policy and an Employee Blogging Policy. And you absolutely need to have an updated Cell Phone Policy.

Employee Benefits
Your company's handbook should detail all benefit programs and eligibility requirements, including all benefits that may be required by law, such as disability insurance, worker's compensation, and COBRA. The employee benefits section should also detail your plans for health insurance options, life insurance options, retirement, employee assistance, tuition reimbursement, business travel and entertainment, and any other fringe benefits your business provides to attract and retain employees.

You company's leave policies should be carefully documented, especially those you are required to provide by law. Family medical leave, maternity leave,  jury duty, military leave, and time off for court cases and voting should all be documented to comply with state and local laws. In addition, you should explain your policies for vacation, holiday, bereavement, and sick leave.