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Creating Your Company’s Employee Handbook

As a business owner, you need a clear, well-written employee handbook.

Here’s why: an employee handbook serves both as an important resource for your employees and protection for you as an employer. Clarifying your company’s policies and putting them in writing ensures that you comply with all of your legal obligations. This prevents disputes in the future and keeps you out of court. Some states even regard handbooks as employee contracts, so it’s important to be specific and precise. In addition, creating a handbook is also an opportunity to reevaluate company policies and motivate employees by stating your company’s goals and values.  

We put together a guide of the most important elements to include in your employee handbook to make the writing process as painless as possible. 


Your introduction can start with a welcome to new employees. You should include a brief overview of your company culture, values and goals. This is an opportunity to set the tone for employees and emphasize what is most important to your company’s mission. 


In this section, you should affirm the informative nature of your handbook and state that it is not all-inclusive or contractual. It’s essential that you emphasize that the handbook does not guarantee employment. This is known as the contractual disclaimer. Also, include that your company can revise the policies stated in your handbook. 

At-will employment 

Depending on your state, you need to say that employment is at-will and can be terminated by either party at any time with or without reason. This protects you from any wrongful termination disputes in the future.  

Equal opportunity employment 

Per the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, you need to state that you do not unlawfully discriminate against employees or applicants on the basis of race, color, religion, creed, sex, national origin, age, disability, marital status, veteran status or any other status protected by applicable law. Don’t miss this one—it’s required! 

Non-discrimination/non-harassment policy 

This one’s important, too! This section establishes that your company prohibits discrimination or harassment based on race, color, religion, creed, sex, national origin, age, disability, marital status, veteran status, or any other status protected by applicable law. It defines what discrimination and harassment are and how an employee can report it.  

Employment classification 

In this section, you need to outline the requirements for each type of employment your company offers (full-time, part-time, temporary). The Fair Labor Standards Act has specific rules for which kind of employees qualify for overtime, so in order to avoid paying damages to employees down the road due to misclassification, consult the Department of Labor.

Company specific guidelines 

Here is where you can outline your company’s own policies and procedures. For example, consider including details on  

  • Dress code 
  • How employees can and cannot use company property 
  • Privacy rules 
  • Social media use 
  • Confidentiality  
  • Intellectual property ownership  
  • Expense reporting 

Attendance and leave policies 

Be detailed in this section, as this is where the most common questions and disputes tend to come up for employees. This should be the place employees can go to get answers about  

  • Expected hours/schedule, attendance, and punctuality 
  • Who to communicate with when you need to miss work 
  • Disciplinary action for unauthorized absences  
  • Policies on vacation, sick leave, bereavement, medical leave, military leave, jury duty/court appearances and voting 

Also note that if you have 50 or more employees, you have to comply with the Family and Medical Leave Act

Performance and discipline policies 

How can an employee expect to be evaluated on their performance and how often? What counts as satisfactory, and what will get employees get fired for poor performance? This section should answer these questions and cover expectations and penalties. Specify the grounds for disciplinary action and detail your procedures (warnings, probation, suspension, etc). Keep in mind that if you write a strict discipline policy for yourself here but don’t adhere to it, it could become binding and get you in hot water later. Don’t put any policies in your handbook that you won’t actually stick to!  

Health and safety 

Include relevant security, safety, or emergency procedures. This section’s relevance depends on the nature of your business. For example, if everyone works online at your company, your safety policies won’t be quite as extensive as a construction company. If applicable, you may need to comply with Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations. If this applies to you, consider creating a separate safety handbook because this can get lengthy. 


Provide a brief description of any employee benefits you offer including retirement plans, insurance or disability coverage. Make sure to note that these benefits might be outlined in more detail in another document if you have one. Also check to see if you are required to have workers’ compensation insurance, which varies by state

Termination policy 

Here, you can outline expectations and policies including:  

  • Two weeks notice expectation if employees decide to terminate employment
  • Final paycheck policies  
  • What paperwork/materials do employees need to turn in before leaving 
  • Returning company property 

Make sure everyone reads the employee handbook!

Now that you’ve included these essential sections, you should be good to go–but your beautiful handbook is no good if nobody reads it. You can either create a section or a new document where new employees confirm they read and understood the handbook. Keep this on file, it may protect your company in the future if any disputes occur. 

It’s also not a bad idea to have a second pair of eyes look over your employee handbook, particularly if those eyes belong to a lawyer. Contact an employment attorney if you are unsure of any of the clauses in your handbook and their implications.  

With these tips in mind, happy writing!  

Want to learn how to motivate your employees? Check out Shifting Work Motivations: Employee Well-Being Takes the Lead!

About the author

Annie Clifford

Annie Clifford is an intern at Lioness Magazine. She's currently a junior at Wellesley College outside Boston and is originally from Denver, Colorado. She's studying economics and pursuing a career in marketing/communications. Annie is also passionate about writing, art, the outdoors and female entrepreneurship.

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