The Website and Blog of HR Author and Speaker Lori Kleiman

Employee Handbook: To Have or Not to Have?

The employee handbook is a crucial tool in your office. What should you include?Policies can both help and hinder an organization. Once policies are documented, the organization will be obligated to follow the procedures outlined and benefits specified. Some owners feel that having an employee handbook will take away their flexibility to make changes for the organization. This is not always the case. A well written employee handbook is a roadmap that provides your team with guidelines by which to operate. The handbook ensures that all department managers treat their employees the same way, and gives confidence to leadership that the culture of the organization is being maintained through policy.

Creating the policies

When you write or review a policy, be sure to leave enough flexibility for situational decision making in the future. It is essential to use terms such as “generally,” “often,” and “may,” rather than more concrete terms such as “will,” “always,” and “required.” There are situations that arise in the employment relationship that require rules to be “bent” for the circumstances. This should be the exception, but when modification is given to an employee for a valid business reason, it is certainly acceptable. Your handbook makes certain that decisions made regarding employees’ questions and requests are based on objective criteria.

What to include?

There are many policies that are essential to every employee handbook. Among the most critical policies to include are:

  • At-will employment
  • Anti-harassment and discrimination
  • Computer systems, social media and email use
  • Pay practices
  • Confidentiality of company property, medical information and employee data

There are many thoughts on creating an employee handbook.  Some managers want to document everything and include processes and procedures for all business interactions. Others feel that having a handbook will limit their ability to be flexible and make changes to the employment relationship as the needs change.  We recommend somewhere in the middle.

The Small Business Association has a good article on policies that should be included in a handbook.

The handbook should not include processes, forms or other “how to” steps. The idea of the employee handbook is to paint a picture of the employment relationship as it exists for all. You should have a handbook to provide guidelines to new hires and ensure that all managers are operating under the same principals. At the same time – the language must be flexible enough to provide decision making at a given point in time.

We already have a handbook – Now what?

If you currently have a handbook, use the checklist in HR Hacks as a guide to see what might be missing and what could be improved. You can also check out a list from SHRM on updates that are recommended. Your handbook should be reviewed by your leadership team annually to ensure the stated topics are still appropriate for your operations. Consider legal review as well to verify compliance.

The handbook should be reviewed annually to ensure consistency and an accurate reflection of current policy and process. It is easier to change and adapt your handbook as you expand, rather than start a handbook when you have 50 employees and multiple operating rules within various departments.

Lori Kleiman is an HR expert who presents to business people and groups. Click here to see a video of Lori in action. If you’d like to have Lori keynote one of her HR presentations at your upcoming event, click here, or email Lori directly at!
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