The Small Business Guide to Employee Handbooks


An employee handbook, or staff manual, outlines your company’s policies, procedures and behavioral expectations that direct your team’s actions.  That’s not all, though. 

    Why do you need an employee handbook? 

    Creating a handbook after hiring your first worker helps ensure each future team member starts with the same information. There are several reasons you should consider writing a staff manual for your small business. 

    1. Introduce your company culture to new hires.

    New hires typically receive a handbook on or before their first day because it introduces a company and how it works. It often includes the business’s story, mission statement, goals and values, so the newest team members start to connect with the company culture immediately. 

    The manual will also serve as a valuable reference throughout the employee’s tenure because they can find out what sets your business apart. 

    2. Communicate what you expect from employees.

    Your staff manual can provide your team with a clear understanding of their individual responsibilities as well as the company rules and policies. Workers learn guidelines about things like timekeeping and safety and know the consequences of their actions – whether that entails termination for breaking the rules or being promoted for exceeding expectations. 

    3. Share what employees can expect from you.

    Your handbook should not only tell your staff what you expect from them, but it covers what they can expect from you. Explain things like how often you’ll pay your team and how you’ll handle things like harassment and discrimination claims. This reassures team members that you strive to provide a positive, productive and safe workplace free from prejudice or harmful conduct. It also shows that your company tries to comply with federal and state labor laws. 

    4. Create a fair environment.

    Because your manual spells out expected behavior and lays out the consequences of improper conduct, your workers will know that everyone on your staff will receive similar treatment for similar actions. This can protect you from claims of favoritism and discrimination. 

    5. Protect your company against employee claims.

    If you ever do face a lawsuit from a current or former worker, you can share a copy of your handbook with your attorney or investigator. It will show that you practiced “reasonable care” toward your staff and that the current or former employee signed an acknowledgment that they read the manual, understood the included policies and had the opportunity to ask questions.  

    6. Empower your employees.

    Your handbook serves as a quick reference to your team, so they don’t have to ask you every time they have a question. Your staff will know how to report workplace violations or ask for work-related assistance.  

    What’s included in an employee handbook? 

    Every small business is different and has unique needs to address in its staff manual. But there are common elements many handbooks contain. These include:

                                        5 tips for writing your first employee handbook 

                                        Once you’ve decided that you need a staff manual and have an idea of what you’d like to include, it’s time to write it. Here are five tips to make the process easier. 

                                        1. Look at examples.

                                        Writing a handbook can be difficult, but you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Instead, look at other companies like Valve, Netflix, Trello and Zappos for ideas. 

                                        2. Make it easy to navigate.

                                        Before writing your staff manual, create an outline to ensure you include everything that is critical. Then, use a table of contents, subheadings and bullet points to help answer questions quickly.  

                                        You may even have a frequently asked questions section and answer things like: 

                                        1. How long is my lunch break? 
                                        2. Can I have my cell phone out at work? 
                                        3. When is the schedule posted?
                                        4. How do I request a shift change?
                                        5. How do I ask for time off?
                                        6. What is the dress code?
                                        7. How do I report tips? 

                                        3. Keep it simple.

                                        Make sure your team can understand your policies by avoiding long, complicated words and technical jargon. Instead, use clear and concise language. 

                                        4. Ask an attorney to review it.

                                        After writing your handbook, ask an attorney who is an expert in employment law to review it and ensure that you’re following all federal and state governments.  

                                        5. Make it accessible.

                                        Don’t expect your employees to keep up with their original copy. Instead, use an online document sharing platform, so your staff always has the most up-to-date copy and can access it easily. 

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