Employee handbooks are a standard guide for your team. Whether it's for your workplace policies, vacation guidelines, or code of conduct, it's important to have a key document for your employees to reference.
An employee handbook details your company's mission, policies, and guidelines for all employees to follow. The main reason for providing an employee handbook is to ensure employees are able to perform to their best potential by equipping them with the knowledge and tools to have a safe and productive work experience.
You can read a summarized employee handbook below, or download the employee handbook template as a PDF here.
You can also click on the page links below to read or download the sections individually.
The Employee Handbook
- Employment Basics
- Workplace Policies
- Code of Conduct
- Compensation and development
- Benefits and Perks
- Working Hours, PTO and Vacation
- Resignation and Termination
Note: this template is not a legal document and does not consider local, state-specific, national, or international laws. Each state and locality may have very different laws and policies. So please consult an employment lawyer in your state to approve your your employee handbook. Wave does not assume any liability for the use of any or all of these templates.
In this first section, you will define the basics of employment in your company, including the different classification of employees, such as contractors and full time.
You can include details on your Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) statement, which sets out the principles for non-discrimination at your company. Further, you can detail your recruitment and hiring process, as well as your attendance policy.
You can find the full Employment Basics template here. It contains the following sections:
- Types of Employees
Full-time, part-time, temporary, seasonal, and independent contractors.
- Equal employment opportunity
This is an important statement that commits your company to having an inclusive, diverse, and meritocratic culture.
- Recruitment process
Share the high level steps of your recruitment process. This includes identifying new roles to hire for, crafting job descriptions, posting on job sites, reviewing and shortlisting, as well as background checks and employment offers. In this section you can also talk about a referral program if you have one, as well as how you treat references in the hiring process.
- Attendance policy
The most basic part of the job - showing up for work. Here you can make it clear when employees should be in attendance and also your policy around absences.
It's important to write down and formalize what your ideal workplace is. Your workplace policies should aim to create a safe, healthy, respectful, and secure environment for your employees. Further, it should ensure your business activity remains legal.
At a high level, here are the specific types of policies that it includes:
- Safety and health standards
In this section, you can detail safety standards, as well as how you deal with workplace violence, emergency situations, and how you work to ensure a drug-free workplace. It's important to mention both the guidelines and the measure that you take, including providing training and workshops, as well as resources and steps for individuals experiencing violence. You can also include your protocols for emergencies such as fires, and your high level evacuation plan. It should also include your policies on drugs, alcohol, smoking, prescription drug abuse, and how you can help support individuals deal with addiction.
- Anti-discrimination and harassment
This section aims to support the psychological safety of individuals and to ensure that they are specifically protected from being harassed or discriminated based on background, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or heritage. It will also include your specific policies on dealing with sexual harassment, defining what is unacceptable, and the progressive discipline policy that is taken. You can also include resources for escalation to management, and external hotlines and supports for victims of sexual harassment or violence.
- Data and privacy protections
It's important that your company maintains the security of its data and intellectual property. In this section, you will detail how your company treats data to ensure it remains confidential, as well as your guidelines around non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). You can also mention the specific controls that you provide around data. Another important part of this section is outlining the importance of personal privacy, and resources for employees to maintain their own privacy.
Code of Conduct
Codifying your principles of behaviour is one of the most important parts of creating a company culture. In it, you share your standards for how people treat each other. Having a code of conduct ensures that your employees know what is expected of their behaviour and how they should conduct themselves day to day.
This chapter includes the following parts:
These are the basic standards of professional behaviour that you expect, particularly how you expect employees to dress and conduct themselves at company events. Ultimately, you will want employees to look smart and clean, and for them to represent your company well at events.
- Digital and online conduct
The digital and online realm is important to set guidelines and boundaries for, as we don't often receive formal instruction in how to conduct ourselves over email, social media, and other platforms. In this section, talk about how you expect employees to use email, how to be safe online, and to not share unauthorized or unknown content with others. Also, it's important to set guidelines for how employees should use the internet, to protect themselves and company property. That includes social media sites, as the behaviour of employees in public settings is typically seen to represent the company, regardless if they are acting in a personal capacity. Finally, it's important that you lay down the rules regarding the use of cell phones. In most cases, cell phones can be valuable for work purposes but they can also be a serious source of distraction. So make it clear to employees what they can and can't do with these devices and resources.
- Relationships and people
This section addresses everything from what constitutes a consensual vs. non-consensual relationship at work, to the policy on nepotism, to having visitors to the office. In the context of relationships, you should make it clear that you acknowledge that relationships can develop at work. But you should lay out guidelines to ensure that those relationships are consensual, such as not occurring between a manager and their direct report. On the topic of nepotism, it's common that a family member or a friend can be referred to work at a company -- but it's important that someone not interview or be directly responsible for hiring an individual with whom they have a close or familiar relationship with. And finally, for visitors to the office, employees are welcome to bring visitors but the visits should be short, visitors should comply with all relevant company policies in terms of security, and employees should always remain with or near their visitors.
- Outside and personal interests
The final part of the code of conduct is to protect the workplace from conflicts of interests, as well as ensure that employees aren't prioritizing their own personal interests over the company's by soliciting or distributing to other employees. In the case of solicitation, it's about ensuring that your employees don't feel pressured to buy something or be engaged in an activity by another employee that makes them uncomfortable. And on the topic of conflict of interest, you will want to make clear what constitutes a conflict, how to avoid one, and also to lay out the penalties for not following the policy.
Compensation and Development
No matter how important your organization's mission is, your employee's #1 priority is to be paid for their work! So it's in your benefit to outline clear information on how employees are compensated and promoted, as well as how you work to develop talent at your company.
The compensation and development chapter will include:
- Compensation structure
This section should specify the two different types of employees in the context of compensation, which are exempt and nonexempt employees, as defined under the Fair Labor Standards Act Guidelines. You can also detail how hourly employees are expected to record their timesheets. And for salaried employees, it's important to state how you pay for overtime, and how to track those hours. Last, make it clear to employees when they will be paid, for example, every two weeks on the 15th and 30th of every month.
- Performance reviews and rewards
Employees will want to know how they can get promoted and get raises. In this part, you can detail when and how you will provide performance reviews, and how employees will receive feedback. Also, you can share how you treat rewards and bonus for good performance.
- Training and talent development
Offering training and workshops for employees is the most common way to ensure that they have the on the job skills that they need, as well as opportunities to improve themselves and to grow. You can detail your approach to that here.
Benefits and Perks
Another piece that employees will be keen to read about is the benefits and perks that you offer at work. This is everything from health insurance and accident compensation, to business expenses and work from home policies.
The benefits and perks section will entail:
- Health and wellness
You can share here the standard health and insurance plan that you have for employees, as well as link back to your workplace policies on how you maintain a healthy workplace.
- Accidents and compensation
On accidents, you can refer to how you will support your employees when they happen, and direct them to your state's compensation board.
- Using company equipment
If your company offers or loans their employees with specific equipment to use, it's important to make clear how they should take care of it and treat the equipment. This part can also detail how to handle damaged or stolen equipment, as well as a reminder of keeping equipment secure.
- Expense policy and reporting
Employees may be required to incur business expenses on the company's behalf. If this is expected, then you'll want to set up a company expense policy, including for travel, education, client meetings/needs, and necessary office supplies. You can also specify what expensing software to use, if any.
- Working remotely and working from home
If employees are able to work remotely, you'll want to specify what is expected of them if they choose to do so, including how they should connect and remain connected, as well as when and how they are allowed to do so.
- Parking spots
If your company provides parking spots to employees, you should ensure they only use their assigned parking spot, and make it clear how to get one.
Working Hours, PTO and Vacation
You'll want to ensure that you have a well-rested workforce. To help your employees know when and how they can take a vacation, you'll want to have a clear policy set out. Further, from time to time employees may need to take leave from work, either due to pregnancy or even sickness or disability. So it's in both of your interests to have set policies to define when and how to take leave, as well as support employees in a return to work.
You will find the following in this chapter:
- Working hours
A simple section at the start that outlines the standard hours of your work day, as well as what hours would constitute overtime.
- Time off
This section is a core part of this policy, which defines how much vacation or PTO your employees have, for example two or three weeks. It asks them to please submit their requests to managers in advance. Further, the policy shares what statutory holidays exist and how employees can expect for those to happen. And in the case of holiday pay/hours, you can make it clear how they can expect for those to happen, such as by exchanging a holiday by adding another day of PTO.
Employees may need to take leave for a number of reasons, including for sickness or a long-term illness or disability, a death in the family, jury duty, voting, or paternity or maternity leave. In each case, you can share the amount of time that they can expect, how their salary will be treated, as well as additional support available to support them in their time of leave.
- Returning to work
The final part of this section is connected to leave. It can be a difficult transition for both employees and the employer to return to work, so it's important to make it clear how you will make that as seamless as possible, including through flexible and remote working.
Resignation and Termination
The final section of a strong employee handbook details policies around employee resignation and termination and it also includes a part on disciplinary action.
This final chapter will consist of these parts:
From time to time, employees may resign. This part of the handbook suggest that they provide enough notice - typically 2-4 weeks - as well as to speak to their manager beforehand. It also specifically addresses the topic of resigning under duress. If an employee is not resigning with their full consent or intention, then they may be facing a hostile work environment or being pushed out of the company. It helps employees to seek escalation to management or an executive. Also, if employees are resigning after having received tuition or other training benefits, they may be required to repay some or all of the fees.
- Disciplinary action
Before termination, companies typically have various disciplinary actions that they take first - because replacing employees is expensive. This progresses from verbal warning and discussions with a manager, to formal verbal and written warnings to financial penalties, to eventually termination. In general, your company should treat minor to more serious violations with a progressive level of discipline. You should have clear policies set out to ensure employees are communicated with appropriately if they are facing disciplinary action.
Sometimes, the realities of a business will require the termination of an employee. In the US, employees are employed at-will, which doesn't require cause for firing - as long as that firing is not illegal, for example based on discrimination. That being said, employees terminated without cause will be treated differently, and potentially eligible for severance pay, benefits, and help with finding new work in the future. This section also includes details on accessing state unemployment insurance, up to $450/per week.
The company can also provide positive references for employees that gave acceptable performance.
At the end of your handbook, you can promise to let employees know if you decide to make any changes to the handbook.
Ultimately, your employee handbook should be a helpful document for your employees. Keep the tone informative, but also genuine. You want them to use it, so that you are both on the same page. And even though we've provided these templates, do your best to make some changes so that they know it's you talking! That will make them feel right at home.
Don't forget to download the employee handbook .pdf so you can make those changes, and get started on your employee handbook today. And, when it's time to pay your newly hired employees, using a small business payroll software like Wave will make the job much easier for you.