The employee handbook (also called an employee manual) is not necessarily required of employers, but it is by far the best way to remain compliant with employment laws. Also, it is a great way to speed up the onboarding process with new employees.


Documenting your company’s policies and training your staff


It is vital (required by law, even) that you document all company policies, leave policies such as medical leave, sick leave, family leave and progressive discipline in a way that is clear and accessible to all employees. Employee handbooks do this very well. It is also a great way to organize the new employee orientation (a key piece to the onboarding process).


Documenting company expectations for employees


The ambiguity between employers and employees forces employees to guess which in turn causes conflict among peers and managers. The best way to avoid this ambiguity is to practice clear, specific communication regarding expectations between leadership teams and the employees. The employee handbook should outline the expectations in a clear and concise way.


Pieces to include in a top-notch employee handbook


Every employee handbook (or manual) will look slightly different. But there are a number of standard pieces you should include. Remember to make extensive use of headings, subheadings, and short, concise sentences. This will make it easier for employees to read the manual during onboarding and then reference it later on as needed. 

A key tip is to try and avoid making it boring! If you want a really great employee handbook/company handbook that your new hires and employees will actually read, then include the “why”. Why are those policies in place and why are they important? The employee handbook should be aligned with the company culture. Include the company’s mission, vision and core values.

The employee handbook should include information on: 

  • Your company’s history, mission, vision, and goals
  • Your company’s core values and culture  
  • Human resources and legal information related to employment
  • Your company’s policies (leave policies, workplace safety, discrimination policy etc.)
  • Employee benefits and perks

It is also a good idea to update your employee handbook on a regular basis (perhaps every couple of years). For veteran employees, you should notify them of any changes and decide whether or not you want employees to sign an acknowledgment that they read and understood company policies as explained in the handbook.


Mission statement


Your company’s mission should be the core of the company’s DNA. All policies and standards begin with the company’s mission statement. Make sure to include that mission in the handbook with a brief explanation as to why the following workplace policies are important to upholding that mission.


Any state compliance standards regarding sexual harassment, general safety, equal opportunity, antidiscrimination, etc.


Human resources departments should be well-informed of employment laws relevant to the location the employee is based. As such, you should include any key policies that you are required by law to explain to your employees. These compliance policies typically relate to what to do in the event of sexual harassment, discrimination, or any unsafe work condition.


Explanation of pay and company benefits


All employees should know when payday is, as well as any company benefits to which they are entitled. This would include benefits/policies related to insurance, leave, sick leave, and any other special perks (or rights) that are extended to all employees.


Employee code of conduct

It is a good idea to include a few standards outlining professional behavior in the workplace. This section could also include a description of the company culture. Then you can list activities that contribute to that company culture, as well as activities that detract from that company culture.


Employee dress code


Even if your company’s dress code is relaxed, it is still important that you outline what the dress code is. For example, many tech-based companies in Silicon Valley encourage lounge clothing for their employees (so that they are as comfortable as they need to be to do their job) but still require shoes (over flip flops) and long pants (for the men).

Most companies require their employees to at least dress business casual or even more formally. Whatever the dress code, make sure to spell it out clearly for all: men, women, and gender neutral.


Explanation of at-will employment


The “at-will employment” clause included in employment contracts protects you as you seek to retain the right talent and let go of toxic employees. You must, of course, always have “just cause” to fire an employee, but this section informs employees that you always retain the right to let go of any employee that fails to adhere to company policy.


Confidentiality agreements


Employees should not be able to share company secrets with competitors. Neither should they be allowed to start their own business on the side while using company resources. These are just a couple of examples that indicate the need to include a clear, exhaustive confidentiality agreement between you and your employees. It is often best to consult the business’s legal counsel for using the right verbiage and enforcing this standard.


Chain of command and company structure


Who does an employee report to and who reports to them? How should they handle conflict or complaints? When are performance reviews carried out and by who? Make sure the employees understand what steps to take when they need help, guidance, or to live into their leadership role.

In this section, be sure to also include the promotion process, as well as a few key objectives that help employees know how they can improve their performance in order to achieve a promotion.


Recognized holidays/vacation time and designated work hours


At many companies, employees are required to “check-in” at certain hours – whether working on-site or in a remote position. As such, vacation policy must be clear, as well as when they are permitted and not permitted on company property.

If the work location contains sensitive equipment or information, the handbook should clearly explain security measures, to include how to get or replace an employee ID card that checks them in and out of the premises.


How to write a great employee handbook?


To write a great employee handbook, you should do more than copy a generic employee handbook template. Employee handbooks should encompass your company culture and brand while including the company policies. 

  • Write it using your company brand’s tone of voice  
  • Include real-life photos of your employees and workplace
  • Use your company’s colors and fonts
  • Be creative and make your employee handbook unique


Examples of creative employee handbooks




For example, HubSpot published their Culture Code slide presentation on SlideShare as a way of demonstrating their mission and revealing who they are. This is a creative way to make your handbook unique.

The visuals are rich with photographs, illustrations, and beautiful design.

Whether it’s a slideshow, movie, blog series, or eBook — there are so many ways to promote your company’s message.


Education First


EF Education First has created an elementary and adorable employee handbook that everyone would want to read. They have used children’s book illustrations to style their short and sweet 7-page employee handbook.




The Valve employee handbook was leaked in 2012 and it became very popular because of its off-beat take on a handbook. They used humorous illustrations throughout the handbook to keep the readers engaged.




The  Disqus employee handbook is balanced between legal policies and company culture. It covers the legal part in the first section and about the work culture at Disqus in the second.


In conclusion


While having an employee handbook is not necessarily required by law, it is the best way to remain compliant with employment laws, as well as help employees understand their employment relationship, role, and responsibilities in the workplace. Make sure to consult legal advice to help you plan and compose your handbook. It will significantly improve your employee onboarding process. But remember if you want your employees to read it, be creative!


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