A comprehensive employee handbook is a beneficial resource for communicating with your staff about key workplace issues. Employees with a clear understanding of policies may be less likely to waste time and energy because they know what's expected of them and what the company has committed to.

In addition, an employee handbook can provide a strong line of defense against legal actions brought against your business by an employee or ex-employee. A regularly updated document that adheres to applicable local, state, and federal regulations can help you focus on productivity and worry less about issues that could negatively impact business operations.

Here are some areas to consider when building an employee handbook:

Legal Responsibilities Toward Employees

Some legal guidelines may differ from state to state, but most every business in the U.S. must adhere to certain federal regulations. Outlining your company's commitment to these regulations should be included in your employee handbook.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is a federal law that sets standards for minimum wage, overtime pay, child labor, and record-keeping requirements. The employee handbook should include policies that adhere to these standards (and applicable state wage and hour standards), as well as provide information on the classification of exempt and non-exempt employees, pay frequency, performance reviews, salary increases, and bonuses.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination by covered employers in employment based on sex, race, national origin, religion, or color. Sexual harassment is also considered a form of unlawful discrimination. An employee handbook should clearly state your business’ commitment to complying with these policies, a commitment to fairness in hiring practices, and a workplace free of discrimination.

Qualified individuals with disabilities are protected from discrimination in employment by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and/or similar state laws. In addition to prohibiting discrimination in hiring against disabled job candidates, the law requires covered employers to provide a "reasonable accommodation" to an otherwise qualified applicant, unless to do so would cause an undue hardship for the employer. 

Your employee handbook should be written in compliance with all of these federal workplace regulations, as well as applicable laws and regulations mandated under local and state laws. Including such statements may offer protection against any future legal action.

Safety, Communications, and Other Subjects

The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) is a federal law that requires employers to provide a workplace free of recognized hazards. It is a best practice to include policies on the safe use of equipment and vehicles, handling of materials, wearing of safety apparel, etc. in your employee handbook.

One area where your employee handbook may need ongoing updates is communications.

Disclaimer Information

Consider including language in your employee handbook to ensure employees understand. Be mindful that the handbook does not constitute a legal contract.

Ask employees to sign a receipt document (or receipt page included in the employee handbook), acknowledging that they have read and understood the policies outlined. This signed document can be referenced in the case of future disciplinary issues related to an employee's violation of a company policy.

A well-crafted and compliant employee handbook can be a valuable tool for making sure your staff understands their obligations and responsibilities in the workplace.

What to Include in an Employee Handbook