Large companies aren't the only businesses that need an employee handbook. Even before you hire your first employee, you should establish your company's policies and procedures in writing to help protect yourself, your business and your employee. Here are some best practices on what your handbook should cover and how you can distribute it.

What to Include

Include all policies and procedures in clear language. These might be discussion points that come up in the interview process, but it is worth setting forth in writing to reference later. If applicable, you may want to include an at-will employment disclaimer stating that the company or employee can terminate the relationship at any time, and for any (lawful) reason. Here are a number of common points covered in handbooks:

  • What is the vacation policy? Can employees use their vacation time as soon as they are hired, or does it accrue over time? What is the vacation request process? What are the legally mandated time-off policies in your area?
  • How will employees track time? What meal and break periods will they have?
  • Can employees continue to use their social media sites? Do your social media guidelines comply with NLRB guidelines and applicable federal and state laws?
  • If an employee has a complaint, what procedure should she follow?
  • Is your anti-discrimination and harassment policy clear? Are employees aware that they can make complaints without fear of retaliation?
  • If she is sick, is she required to call her supervisor, or can she send an email? How many sick days do employees receive? What are the laws regarding sick leave in your city and state?

All details regarding compensation and benefits should also be included, such as pay schedules, permissible deductions, which benefits are offered and how they are carried out, and how your company complies with state, local and federal regulations.

Conduct expectations in your employee handbook should go beyond nondiscrimination and harassment policies. For instance, what is your company's dress code? How may company computers and phones be used? How should employees treat confidential information?

How to Distribute Your Handbook

Some companies store handbooks in managers' offices and don't hand out individual copies to employees, which benefits neither the employee nor the employer. Every employee should have free access to the handbook at all times.

Because handbooks often need to be updated regularly, it makes sense to produce electronic rather than print copies. Make sure new hires not only have the opportunity to read the handbook, but that they are also required to click through each page. You can't force someone to read it, but you can verify that the employee has at least viewed each page. It is often advisable to have employees sign a document that acknowledges their receipt of the handbook, which you can keep on file.

HR Compliance Considerations

There may be times when you have to rely on the terms in your handbook, so don't just put something down on paper. Carefully consider your policies and have an employment lawyer review them to make sure they're in compliance with the law. The last thing you want is to accidentally write something that can be misleading or misunderstood by employees. Additionally, ensure that what's written in the handbook is reflected in how you and your employees act.

A strong, properly written handbook can take the guesswork out of managing your staff and keep everyone on the same page, making it well worth your time and effort.