Important Points for Handbooks

An employee handbook serves as a guide for managers and employees alike. When well-written and prepared it can help avoid conflict and head off potential problems. A good handbook can also create an incentive for employees to make a long-term commitment to your company.

The following list includes 10 major topics your employee handbook should include:

  1. Scope of duties and hours. Distinguish between clerical and other positions. For non-professional staff, state normal office hours (such as 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) and note lunch and break times. Describe who gets overtime payments and when.
  2. Company property. Describe your policy for misuse of such company property as computers, fax machines, copiers, telephones and online services. For example, clearly state your company’s policy on personal e-mail and the consequences for violating it.
  3. Sick leave. State the maximum time permitted (with and without pay), the rate of accrual and eligibility. Also cover the effect of unused sick leave – for example, if any portion carries over to the next year or if unused sick leave results in a bonus.
  4. Holidays and vacation. List the holidays that your company observes. Spell out the amount of vacation time allowed, when an employee becomes eligible, the accrual rate, and whether any portion carries over to the next year. This section should also outline how vacation time increases as years of service add up and whether fired employees are entitled to payment for unused vacation time.
  5. Sexual harassment and discrimination. Clearly state that your company will not tolerate sexual harassment or discrimination based on race, religion or national policy. Instruct employees to report violations immediately.
  6. Part-time employment. Describe what constitutes a part-time employee and how this affects benefits.
  7. Benefits. Describe benefits your company offers and all the details employees need to know. List any cost to employees. Include the person within the organization who is responsible for handling questions.
  8. Leave. State the amount of time permitted for maternity and paternity leave with pay and without pay. Address how leave for adoptions is treated. What about family medical leave? (Make sure your policies comply with legislation that requires leave in certain circumstances.) Also include your policy on military leave, disability and jury duty.
  9. Smoking and drug policies. State your company’s smoking and drug policy. On the subject of drugs, mention whether all applicants are tested and if random tests and searches are permitted for cause. In addition, address whether the employer pays for drug testing and if there is a rehabilitation policy. Special care must be taken in articulating these provisions to avoid legal challenges.
  10. Termination provisions. Clarify the circumstances that lead to termination. Clearly state that employment may be terminated at any time by the employer. State any notice periods and payment upon termination.

For additional information on employee handbooks see this resource page.