Just how important is an employee handbook? It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that, actual employees aside, it may be the most important part of your organization. Handbooks help manage your employees and keep your business compliant with the ever-growing list of employment rules and regulations.

But simply having an employee handbook is not enough. An out-of-date employee handbook, or one missing key elements, is just as bad as having none at all. So what should be included in an employee handbook? Check yours against the below list of 17 must-have items to see how it stacks up.

An out-of-date employee handbook, or one missing key elements, is just as bad as having none at all. Click To Tweet

Must-Have Items For Every Employee Handbook

1. Notice and disclaimer / Acknowledgement of Receipt

A notice and disclaimer indicates the handbook is not a contract of employment and that the handbook is subject to change. Many employers put this notice at the end, but we prefer to include it at the front of handbooks, where it is more prevalent, because we want employees to see and sign it immediately.

Note: This section should always be reviewed by an attorney to make sure the contents will hold up in court if necessary.

2. Employment at-will policy

Most states, Massachusetts included, have an at-will work policy, which means that companies and employees can separate from one another at any time. If your state is the same, state it in your handbook so you get the protection this policy affords.

3. Equal opportunity statement and anti-harassment statement

These two statements are usually put together in a handbook, and they speak to your company’s stance against employee harassment and discrimination.

4. Work authorization

Work authorization involves the I-9 form. It is important to include because all employees must be legally eligible to work in the United States in order for you to employ them. We suggest including it at the beginning of your handbook to make employees aware of the necessity of completing the document.

5. Policy on employment classification

This policy statement is your opportunity to help your employees understand the differences in classification, specifically the delineation between full-time and part-time/exempt and non-exempt employees. It also clarifies the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) regulations for paying overtime.

There’s a lot you need to know about classifying your employees the right way based on the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Get all the information in this guide.

6. Overtime

Use this section to clarify your company’s position on overtime pay for employees who do qualify.

7. Leaves of absence

If you have more than 50 employees, you must have a clearly defined FMLA leave-of-absence policy. In our experience working with employers, it is much better to create this policy in an environment where you don’t have external factors influencing your decisions.

8. Parental leave

This section in your handbook should spell out your policy on parental leave. For Massachusetts employers, this is a must-do; other states have similar requirements for parental leave statements as well.

9. Workplace violence and workplace safety

These two items should state your zero-tolerance policy for both violence and unsafe activities in the workplace. Your workplace safety policy may not be as in-depth as your policy on workplace violence, but it should encourage safe behavior. It should also include language about reporting unsafe conditions and potential hazards, and information about where employees can report accidents, etc.

10. Conflict of interest

The conflict of interest policy protects your company from employees who inappropriately act on the employer’s behalf.

11. Code of conduct

This item outlines processes that ensure orderly operations and provide the best possible work environment for your employees. You can see a template code of conduct on the SHRM website.

12. Unemployment compensation

This policy informs employees that, should they be terminated, they may be eligible for benefits. In a separation of employment, unemployment insurance is available to the formerly employed individual which allows them to collect unemployment. This section also states the company will legally defend its case if there was a known violation of a company policy.

13. Payroll deductions

This item spells out each of the deductions the company withholds, including federal, state, and local taxes and other things, including voluntary deductions for benefits.

14. Direct deposit

If direct deposit is available at your company, explain it in this section. Clarify any limitations for availability of direct deposit and explain how employees can make changes if desired.

15. Holidays and other time off

If you pay employees for holidays or other time off, you should define the criteria for eligibility in a policy.

16. Health and welfare benefits and insurance

Explain your company’s benefits and insurance offerings in detail, touching on all the following areas (if offered):

  • Medical, dental, vision insurance
  • Life and disability insurance
  • Information about qualifying events
  • Open enrollment time and qualifications
  • Health care accounts

17. Employee assistance

SHRM defines an employee assistance program as “a work-based intervention program designed to identify and assist employees in resolving personal problems (e.g., marital, financial or emotional problems; family issues; substance/alcohol abuse) that may be adversely affecting the employee’s performance.” If your company offers an employee assistance program, describe it fully here.

Write it down—then follow the policies set forth.

Think you’re finished? These 17 things won’t make your employee handbook complete! To make it more effective, your employee handbook should be a living document that is used, questioned, and reviewed on a regular basis. Only once your organization sees the handbook as an HR bedrock will it be useful, so be as comprehensive as possible—and then get everyone on the team reading your handbook!

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