The Definitive Employee Handbook Checklist for 2021

From sanitation processes and health requirements to remote work expectations, there’s a lot of change to incorporate into next year’s employee handbook.

man taking notes
COVID-19 has changed the workplace, requiring new employee handbook considerations

Chances are you’ve already come up with a handful of new processes and policies to accommodate the curveballs that 2020 has thrown the working world. From sanitation processes and health requirements (no working around others with a positive COVID test!) to work-from-home protocols, there’s a lot of change to incorporate into your 2021 employee handbook.

Here is an employee handbook checklist for 2021. You can use it as an outline of the information you’ll need. Once you go through the checklist, you can use this free employee handbook builder to turn the concepts into reality.

Pro tip: include relevant legal information and resources throughout

Throughout your employee handbook, you’ll want to draw from local, state, and federal bodies that set employment laws and make regulatory policy for your area, and to communicate employee rights as well. As you cover things like anti-discrimination policies, it’s good practice to reference the laws that govern the policies.

This is an especially important section to include and it should be carefully considered and reviewed before publishing since it may be cited in the event of a lawsuit. Furthermore, this section demonstrates to employees that these aren’t simply arbitrary decisions — they are requirements that must be followed.

Now, onto the checklist! Here are the 10 must-have items to include in your employee handbook.

1. An introduction

If you’re starting from scratch, the first section of an employee handbook should contain an introduction welcoming new members to the team. Consider using the introduction to outline what’s covered in the coming pages and to direct employees to whom they should talk if they have any questions or concerns about the content.

2. Company history and values

A nice segue into learning about company policies and procedures — which is one of the central functions of a good employee handbook — is to explain what the company is all about. This is the place to discuss company culture, as well as its mission, vision, values, and any other unique or pertinent information that can help new hires transition into their new role more smoothly.

3. Employment policies

Does your company practice at-will employment? Do you expect employees to give 2-weeks notice when they decide to leave? This section should cover anything and everything related to the company’s employment policies, such as:

  • Compensation policies that cover when employees will get paid, to
  • how they can expect to get their money (i.e., whether or not methods like direct deposit are available and how an employee can get signed up).

4. Paid time off and leave policies (especially regarding remote work)

In today’s modern workplaces, there are a variety of different paid time off and leave options that you can offer. Do you offer paid time off at all? What about sick time and vacation days? Do you offer parental leave? Be sure to cover legal elements such as the Family and Medical Leave Act that also impact time off.

Perhaps most importantly, given today’s business landscape, this is an appropriate time to clearly address remote work policies, procedures, and expectations — especially if your small business will be working remotely for the foreseeable future.

Perhaps most importantly, given today’s business landscape, this is an appropriate time to clearly address remote work policies, procedures, and expectations—especially if your small business will be working remotely for the foreseeable future.

What are expectations for responding to communications through channels like email and Slack throughout the working day? Are employees expected to keep traditional work hours or is there some flexibility or a system for tracking comp time?

This is also the section to  discuss procedures for requesting or notifying management about time off and any other logistical information employees need to navigate the company’s paid time off and leave policies.

5. COVID-19-related procedures and protocols (even if they’re temporary)

If your business is still operating in-person, it’s critical to outline all COVID-related procedures with which employees must comply.

If your business is still operating in-person, it’s critical to outline all COVID-related procedures with which employees must comply. Cover everything from hand washing to social distancing expectations.

Do you expect employees to notify their managers if they’ve come in contact with someone who tested positive? Do you require that they have a negative test result to return to work? What type of test? What happens if an employee contracts COVID—will they have special paid time off or will they need to use sick leave or flex days to cover them?

Even though this is temporary, it is highly important information right now.

6. Company-specific policies

This section should clearly outline how the company handles everything from promotions and raises to review processes and safety procedures.

Important questions to consider include:

  • How does your company deal with transfers and relocations?
  • Do you offer relocation assistance?
  • Do you offer rewards to employees who refer applicants whom you ultimately hire?
  • What are the disciplinary procedures?

If you have a performance improvement policy in place, this is where you will want to outline it. It is also where you should discuss procedures related to company property, like whether or not employees are allowed to take work computers home or use them for personal purposes. Outlining the policies related to communication through company property is an important element to consider as well.

7. Employee benefits

This is the section that many employees will be most interested in since benefits are a major draw. Does your company match 401(k) contributions or offer a health savings account? How has that changed in the era of COVID?

If the company provides health insurance, dental insurance, life insurance or other benefits, this is the section to outline what is offered, as well as the information that employees need to know to choose plans, get registered, etc.

8. Office conduct

Even if the whole company currently works from home, this section should make sure that expectations for in-office conduct are as up-to-date as possible. This will make updating the section much easier once the pandemic ends.

It’s also important to include what you expect from employees who work in the office. Also, explain how employees are expected to conduct themselves on a day-by-day basis.

If you have a dress code, this is the section to outline what the dress code entails. Do you have policies around fraternization and employee relationships? What about visitors to the workplace? Where can employees store their lunches and what are the clean-up expectations for the break room?

These are the more interpersonal and daily office life considerations that you’ll want to cover in the office conduct section of your employee handbook.

9. Contacts and resources

From the number and email address for the IT department to how and where to access the company directory and more, why not make it easy for new hires to find the important information they’ll probably need to do things like get their computer set up and enroll in health insurance?

10. And finally, be sure you require employee signatures for compliance

At the end of the employee handbook, be sure to designate a place where the employee signs a document attesting to the fact that they have received, read, and agree to follow the contents of the handbook. Employees get a copy of the signature page and so does HR for compliance record keeping.

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