Trending Content

Employee Handbook Essentials

By Tom Weber

March 12, 2020

Every year, I advise my clients—whether they have a company of two or 200 employees—that they must review and update their handbooks and policies. There are some basic policies that every small business needs to have in writing. And, while there are no laws requiring a written handbook, federal and state employment laws do change, so it is good business practice to have one.

Your employee handbook could become very important in the event of a legal issue regarding employment practices. Putting company rules in writing also helps set employee expectations and reduces the chance of any misunderstandings. Formal personnel policies also protect your business in the event of an employee dispute. Potential new employees truly appreciate a company being buttoned up in this area and appreciate seeing the handbook during the recruiting process in an open and honest framework. It sets the stage for successful onboarding.

An employee handbook is basically an assembling of your company’s policies and protocols, as well as your employees’ legal rights and obligations. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but it should include these five basics:

  1. Include attendance and time-off policies, including paid or unpaid company holidays, as well as termination and employment status, such as contractual or at will.
  2. Include medical, family, and bereavement time off, and whether these are paid or not.
  3. Add items related to working hours, breaks, overtime, and any related payroll details. Use state definitions of exempt and nonexempt employee classifications, as well as details on your pay period, payday, overtime-authorization rules, and any meal or rest break guidelines for hourly employees.
  4. Explain how payroll deductions and time off are handled, which may differ for exempt and nonexempt.
  5. Include rules of conduct, which can include dress code and customer interaction, as well as conduct in the workplace. To cover you, if there is something not specifically in your policy, include a clarifying phrase such as “and any other management rules.”

width=193Below are several other key elements to include in your employee handbook, as most of them are important, above and beyond the top five basic items, to help define more specific company policies:

  • Include policy information related to electronic devices and employees’ use of both their own and company-owned devices. This should cover computers, laptops, tablets, and cellphones. Include security rules, usage rules, procedures, etc.
  • A social media policy should include what is and is not allowed, such as posting on social media, what information is considered confidential, brand guidelines, sharing rules, etc.
  • If you have employees who work remotely, have a policy clearly stating guidelines and working arrangements, limitations, expectations, and who is eligible to work remotely.
  • Having a drug and alcohol policy is essential for any business today. Clearly state that you have a drug-free workplace that prohibits the possession, sale, and use of any illegal drugs or alcohol in the workplace or on the job. Include any drug testing parameters you may perform, including random or otherwise. Medical or recreational marijuana is legal in many states, so you may want to include a clause that addresses this issue. Also include any consequences for violating the policy.
  • It is a good idea to protect your data and company information by having a confidentiality policy. This should cover products, data, systems, communications, testing, etc.
  • No matter the size of your business, you must have a weapons policy. As a business owner, you are legally obligated to protect your employees from workplace violence. Be specific. You can include everything from verbal threats to weapons when defining what is allowed. You may not, however, be able to ban weapons from being in locked cars in parking lots.
  • You have an obligation to protect your employees from workplace harassment and discrimination. This includes discrimination based on race, color, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or age. Clearly define the types of actions that are considered discrimination or harassment (including sexual harassment) and what your policies for infractions are. Include specific provisions for how to report behavior that violates your policies and a statement that ensures reporting such behavior is protected.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires companies with 15 or more employees to provide certain accommodations for workers with disabilities to allow them to perform their jobs. Make sure your company policy defines disabilities and states your intent to comply with all applicable laws under the ADA. Spell out how requests for accommodations should be made, including what information you require (such as any medical records) and to whom requests should be submitted.
  • Have a crisis plan that includes severe weather, natural disasters, or other potential crises. Include communication instructions and identify who is in charge in the event of a crisis.
  • Be specific and always state any consequences for employee attitude, behavior, and attendance infractions.
  • Make sure all employees receive original—and updated—company policies for total compliance and legal protection.
  • Have employees sign an acknowledgment stating they received the policies, have read them, and understand the content.
  • Keep a copy of the signed acknowledgment in the personnel file or with a date-and-time stamp on an electronic acknowledgment.

If this seems overwhelming to you, consult with us, your AICC team, to assist with your 2020 handbook review.

width=150Tom Weber is president of WeberSource LLC and is AICC’s folding carton and rigid box technical advisor. Contact Tom directly at