What To Include In Your Employee Handbook


The modern-day employee handbook no longer has to be a dry, boring document that no one wants to read.  In addition to mitigating liability, a well-written handbook is an effective tool for establishing your employer brand and creating a guide for employees to successfully navigate their careers within your organization.

It is important that employee handbooks are well-designed, concise, and easy-to-read.  The handbook contains truly important information you want your employees to read and know.  They are more likely to read and understand a visually pleasing, well-written document.

Good Design Is Important

Just as good design and branding matter to customers, they matter to employees.  An organization wouldn’t send a dry, boring newsletter to its customers or have a website without pictures and graphics.  Reason is, well-designed content is more likely to be read by customers.  Just as it is by employees.

Research shows good design:

  • Makes a good first impression

  • Establishes your brand and keeps the brand memorable

  • Builds trust and loyalty

  • Makes content stand out

Make Sure It’s Easy-to- Read

There is no need for the handbook to sound like a legal contract.  Important legal policies and information can still be included but the bulk of the document should read like a communication piece, such as a guide or website content.  Employees are more likely to read and understand the information if it’s written primarily in plain English, not legal jargon.

The handbook also needs to be concise.  There isn’t a need to repeat the same statement over and over or use long-winded, formal sentences.  Concise and to-the-point is the best way to go from a readability standpoint.

Include Non-Traditional Elements

To engage employee-readers and further establish the employer brand, I recommend including the following non-traditional elements in your employee handbook:

  • Pictures of high-performing and key employees with quotes on what they like most about working for the organization

  • A visual timeline of your organization’s history with important milestones noted

  • The organization’s mission, vision, and values displayed as an infographic

  • Tips for employees who want to get promoted

  • Testimonials from leadership who were internally promoted and how they were successful in doing that

  • A conversational “welcome message” and photo from the organization’s leader

 Policies to Include

Depending on your specific business, this list may vary or additional policies may be needed.  Generally speaking, a handbook should have the following policies:

  • Compensation/Benefits

  • Paychecks/Direct Deposit

  • Exempt/Non-Exempt Schedule, Breaks, & Time Tracking

  • Sick Time, Vacation Time, Holidays

    Performance Management

  • Background Checks

  • Respectful Workplace/Standards of Conduct

  • Equal Employment Opportunity

  • Religious Accommodations

  • Americans with Disabilities Act

  • FMLA/Medical Leaves of Absence

  • Jury Duty, Bereavement, & Personal Leave

  • Conflict of Interest

  • Anti-Harassment/Non-Discrimination

  • Safety& Accident Reporting

  • Workplace Violence

  • Drug & Alcohol

  • Confidentiality

  • At-Will Employment

  • Computer Security & Use of Equipment

The Handbook is a Dynamic Document

It’s important to keep in mind the employee handbook is a dynamic, not a static document.  Policies and other elements may change as the organization changes.  I recommend posting the handbook to a shared online space and having employees sign-off on the document whenever major substantive changes are made.  Otherwise, things such as pictures and design elements can easily be changed.  It’s also important to make sure new employees sign off on the handbook and to provide printed copies upon request for employees who don’t have access to a computer.

Always Have an Attorney do the Final Review

There’s no need to pay an attorney to write the entire document, but it is a good idea to have an attorney conduct a final review.  This step is to make sure the handbook reduces and does not create legal liability.

 Do you need help with your employee handbook?

As a HR Consultant with over 15 years of experience writing and reviewing employee handbooks, I help organizations all over the US by:

  • Reviewing, updating, and revising established handbooks

  • Building and writing handbooks from scratch

  • Writing or reviewing one-off personnel policies

 Contact me at:  SkyeMercer@gmail.com

Skye Mercer, MBA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

HR Consultant

© Skye HR Consulting, LLC, 2019, All Rights Reserved

Skye Mercer