Want to build an employee handbook, but don’t know where to start? Check out this ultimate guide on employee handbook tips and necessities.
An employee handbook gives your HR team the chance to introduce company culture and values, share policies and procedures, and communicate expectations. But much like writing any comprehensive document, creating an employee handbook can be daunting. HR leaders struggle with what to include, how long the handbook should be, and whether or not it’s worth the price to outsource the task.
Building an employee handbook at your company? Here’s what you need to know.
What should you include in an employee handbook?
Employee handbooks should be a mix of company backstory/information (think history, values, mission, and vibe), legally mandated policies (like equal opportunity employment), HR and employment information (PTO and employee classification), and company policies (social media use, for example).
Provide your company’s backstory and talk about what you’re most excited to accomplish moving forward.
Welcome employees to your organization and let them know who you are and what you stand for. Share your company’s values and mission, and explain how employees should use the handbook. Provide your company’s backstory and talk about what you’re most excited to accomplish moving forward. Introduce company leadership and share your organizational structure or chart.
Share at-will employment policies and discuss employee classifications. Communicate your progressive disciplinary procedures, and be sure to clearly spell out prohibited behaviors — like coming to work inebriated. Explain how payroll, performance reviews, and department transfers work.
Code of conduct
Establish expectations for employee behavior. Share your org’s zero tolerance policies on workplace bullying, violence, and harassment. Outline policies for social media and internet use, and include information on company hours and expectations for communication. Discuss remote work policies and how your org’s procedures will change in the case of a public health emergency or natural disaster.
Give employees an overview of the various benefits they’re entitled to as part of the company. Share information on paid time off, vacation accrual, and holidays. Discuss the various leaves of absence employees are entitled to — like sick, disability, personal, bereavement, and family medical. Summarize health insurance, life insurance, employee assistance programs (EAPs), and retirement plans, and let employees know where they can find more detailed information on these offerings.
Legally mandated policies
By law, employers must notify employees of certain policies like Family Medical Leave Act, Equal Opportunity Employment, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, Title I of the ADA, and workplace safety provision by Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Incorporate these into the appropriate sections above — like in the introduction, code of conduct, or benefits — or group them in a section on their own. Make sure you’re covering city and state-specific mandated policies, in addition to federal ones.
Collect signed acknowledgements from employees stating they’ve received and read the handbook. This step ensures that employees understand they’re responsible for the content of the handbook, full stop, and could be helpful in case of a legal dispute. Store the signed acknowledgement securely in their employee file.
Companies are as diverse as the individual working for them. This list is a good starting point, but feel free to add sections we’ve missed, or toss ones that aren’t applicable. Check out Workest’s Employee Handbook tool for a practical and easy-to-use resource.
How do you create an HR handbook?
Good news, you’ve got options. Create your HR employee handbook in house, hire a firm, or work with a consultant or freelancer. You can also use an online legal resource, and if you work with a Professional Employer Organization (PEO), they likely provide this service.
There are lots of them. Compare a few options to ensure your choice is comprehensive in what it covers. Double check for any amendments you need to make, like industry-specific or state-mandated policies that may not be included.
Hire an HR firm or agency
If you want a tailored employee handbook and concierge-level service, consider hiring an HR consultancy. These experts will write a handbook that covers the specific needs of your business and place(s) of operations, but that also reflects your company culture and values. The only hitch? With a price tag of a few thousand dollars, outside firms are the priciest.
Write it yourself
Borrow inspiration from companies who’ve nailed their handbook, and cross-check with a compliance checklist to make sure you’ve included required policies.
You know, the old-fashioned way. Writing your own employee handbook gives you a chance to personalize it to reflect your org’s values at every level. If you’re a retailer that values diversity, equity, and inclusion, include your commitment to the 15% pledge in the handbook. If transparency is a key virtue of your org, make it publicly accessible online. Borrow inspiration from companies who’ve nailed their handbook, and cross-check with a compliance checklist to make sure you’ve included required policies.
Use an online tool
Every company needs an employee handbook to build great culture and help their people get onboarded quickly. If you want an easy-to-use online tool for your handbook, use our employee handbook builder to easily create your own.
How much does an employee handbook cost?
The cost varies widely based on type of outsourcing, number of employees, and if specific compliance information is needed.
HR leaders can find lots of templates online. Be sure to review these carefully as they can be dated or just plain boring. Expect to pay between $0-$500 for an online template.
HR consultants and consultancy firms
Consultants are pricier. You could pay between $1,500-$5,000 for a personalized employee handbook developed by an HR firm. The price depends on factors such as number of employees, number of locations, industry, and state-specific employment laws that may/not need to be included.
Create in-house + legal review
Have your HR team tackle the employee handbook in house and have the final document reviewed by the company’s legal counsel. Or use an online review service, like LegalZoom. Legal review of an employee handbook typically costs a few hundred dollars.
Hire a contractor or freelancer
Get help from a freelancer with HR expertise to get personalized help at a fraction of a consultancy firm’s cost. Professional HR freelancers can run between $100-$500 per hour, depending on their experience, location, credentials, and expertise.
How many pages should an employee handbook be?
Being concise is hard. But creating a rambling, verbose handbook with explanations and information in multiple places leads to confusion. Instead, get organized. Set aside time to write HR policies if you haven’t already articulated them on paper. Write clearly and use subheads to break up information. Be comprehensive, but try to keep the handbook to 50 pages at most.
How do you manually write a handbook?
Decided to tackle it yourself? Kudos to you! Here’s what you need to know.
Determine company policies + procedures
Think about how you’ll handle working hours, diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, dress code, emergency situations, social media usage, and onboarding.
If you haven’t transcribed company policies and procedures yet, start here. Some policies are legally mandated, but others are company specific. Think about how you’ll handle working hours, diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, dress code, emergency situations, social media usage, and onboarding.
Start with an outline
Outlines help you organize. Make a roadmap of what you’ll cover and how you’ll structure it to keep the handbook from getting too long or unruly. An outline will make the writing process go more smoothly for you and your HR team, but will also produce a more logically structured handbook for employees to use.
Make it easy to use
Make the information in your employee handbook easy to find. You’ll want lots of headers and subheads, and bulleted information will be your friend, too. Include a table of contents with links to specific sections. Give employees a pro tip of using Ctrl + Find to search for specific keywords, like vacation policies.
The way you organize, share, and store your employee handbook is important, and speaks to your company’s cultures and values, too. Consider alternatives to traditional PDFs, like scrollable docs hosted online.
Get the legal department’s ok
Send your employee handbook to the legal department or seek outside counsel’s help before sharing the handbook with employees. When done correctly, employee handbooks help keep your business compliant and provide a measure of legal protection. A final review and approval by a legal professional ensures you’re adding a layer of protection, not creating additional liability.
Avoid the stuffy legalese of employment contracts. Handbooks help educate employees and provide a single place with lots of answers. Write in plain language. You want employees to read and use the employee handbook — heck maybe they’ll even enjoy it.
What shouldn’t be included in an employee handbook?
Handbooks are not employment contracts. Avoid getting too specific with topics like high level performance issue escalation, confidentiality clauses, and severance pay for terminated employees.
Give short overviews of complicated topics, like health insurance benefits and policy, but do provide a link or contact to access more detailed information. Avoid including specific information on accommodations, since the reasonable accommodations mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act will be handled individually anyway.
The importance of employee handbooks
Your employee handbook will be the single most important document employees receive.
It’s a guide to usher employees through onboarding, answer FAQs about the employee experience, and share who you are and what you stand for as a company. Be thoughtful and professional, but don’t be afraid to have some fun.
If creating an employee handbook only produces dread in your HR team, consider using a practical resource like Workest’s Employee Handbook tool.