10 things to include in an employee handbook

What content should you include in an employee handbook?

Woman looking at the contents of an employee handbook.

An employee handbook isn't just a document that you give your employees on their first day of work, only for them to never glance at again. At least, it shouldn't be.

When done right, this document can be a valuable reference for both employees and employers, providing general information and guidance about a business's values, policies, and procedures. Having these details in writing ensures clarity and reduces confusion for all involved.

The key to a useful employee handbook is including the right information.

Why create an employee handbook?

An employee handbook clarifies your company's mission and values, as well as practical policies, pay, benefits, and complaint procedures. It can cover everything from sick leave to bonuses.

Basically, an employee handbook is a guide for your workers. It sets clear rules and expectations for them to follow. This can be especially useful for companies with a globalized workforce and employees all over the world, promoting consistency across your teams.

For example, every employee wants to know how many days off they get, whether those days are paid or unpaid, and how they can request time away from work. Not only does this pertain to holidays and vacation time, but it can also cover unanticipated illnesses and emergencies.

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Having this information in writing ensures that both the employer and the employee are aware of and acting in accordance with the business's general rules and regulations.

Ultimately, this improves transparency and enhances communication in the workplace. The result is a more positive, healthy work environment for all involved.

What to include in an employee handbook

As an employer, providing your employees with a handbook should be a standard part of your onboarding process. But what belongs in this document? It depends in part on the type of business you run.

For example, if your company has a dress code, this should be noted in the employee handbook. If not, there is no need to include this point. While some points may vary, there are some that are generally applicable to any business.

1. An introduction to the company

Start with an overview of the company's history, mission, values, and culture. This sets the tone for your handbook in line with your company culture.

Supplement the general introductory information with a personal welcome letter from the CEO. This adds a personal touch.

2. Anti-discrimination, anti-harassment, and anti-retaliation statements

These statements assert that you are an equitable and unprejudiced employer. They help protect your company legally and demonstrate a commitment to equity.

3. Terms of employment

Specify the terms of the employer-employee working relationship. For example, if your workers are at-will employees, this needs to be clarified upfront.

This section should also cover pay policies and benefits. Include essential information on timekeeping, paydays, overtime eligibility, and meal and break times. Additionally, outline the company’s 401k matching, equity incentive plans, or stock options. If your company offers additional perks to make employees feel valued, provide a list of what’s covered.

4. Code of conduct

Set behavioral expectations for employees, such as attendance and dress code, if relevant. You should also outline a policy regarding what happens when an employee's behavior doesn’t meet expectations, such as a progressive discipline policy.

5. Safety and security

As an employer, you're obligated to create a safe workspace for your team. This section outlines what you're doing to keep them safe, and your expectations for how they can help maintain a secure space. Some of this information will pertain to physical safety measures, and some may be similar to the code of conduct, especially as it relates to expected behavior and practices.

6. Time off policies

Specify exactly how many vacation days an employee gets in a given time period, and whether they're paid or unpaid. Also include provisions for sick days.

In the U.S., if a business has 50-plus employees, a family and medical leave policy may be obligatory. The U.S. Department of Labor has more details about the requirements for Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) compliance.

7. Processes for promotions and raises

Explain how employees will be assessed—for example, via quarterly performance reviews—and clarify how these assessments will impact opportunities for promotions and raises.

8. Complaint process

If an employee has an issue in the workplace, whether it's with a coworker or a superior, they need to know where to turn. This section should give them a point of contact and explain how to file a complaint.

9. Office opening hours and closures

Provide business operating hours and note whether employees need to be on-site, or if they work remotely, available online, during these hours. Also, note annual closures, like federal holidays.

10. Disclaimers

The employee handbook is just a guidebook—it's not a contract. This disclaimer needs to be included. Also, include a note stating that the handbook's policies can change at the employer’s discretion.

How to ensure your handbook is enforceable

Finally, every employee handbook should conclude with a document for the receiving employee to sign, attesting to the fact that they've read the handbook and agree to its terms. Include this in your standard onboarding forms because it proves that you informed them of your company policies. This written acknowledgment should be saved in each employee's personnel file so that you can refer back to it in case of any disputes.

A clear and comprehensive employee handbook can help ensure transparency and consistency within your business. For globalized companies, this commitment to clarity is especially important. 

To make managing your worldwide workforce even easier, turn to Oyster. Our end-to-end employee management platform allows for compliant hiring and payroll in more than 180 countries. You focus on your team—Oyster handles the rest.

About Oyster

Oyster is a global employment platform designed to enable visionary HR leaders to find, engage, pay, manage, develop, and take care of a thriving distributed workforce. Oyster lets growing companies give valued international team members the experience they deserve, without the usual headaches and expense.

Oyster enables engagement anywhere in the world—with reliable, compliant payroll, and great local benefits and perks.

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