Gultz: 5 necessary topics for any employee handbook

Posted 5/18/22

Communication is key to employee satisfaction, which drives high productivity.

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Gultz: 5 necessary topics for any employee handbook


Communication is key to employee satisfaction, which drives high productivity.

An essential communication tool for all companies is an employee handbook, which sets policies, clarifies legal obligations and employee rights, and protects companies from claims and lawsuits.

Additionally, employee handbooks offer insight into company culture and the core mission and values.

Below are the five most important topics to cover in an employee handbook:

1. Equal employment, nondiscrimination, and nonretaliation policies

These policies ensure equal opportunity for employment and that discrimination, harassment and retaliation will not be tolerated. Employees cannot be discriminated against or harassed based on race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, disability, age or any other characteristic protected by law. Employees cannot be retaliated against for reporting discrimination or harassment.

2. Code of conduct

This provides employees with information about integrity, ethical standards and compliance as well as acceptable behavior and responsibilities within the company. Topics such as code of ethics, appearance expectations, workplace safety, and attendance requirements are often included in the code of conduct. 

3. Compensation and benefits

While this is discussed in the interview process or when an offer is made, the employee handbook is a great place to have this in writing for future reference. This section should highlight topics such as the payroll schedule, salary and bonuses, payroll deductions, performance reviews, promotions, health care options, disability and life insurance, workers’ compensation, retirement plans and more.

4. Leave and PTO policies

Employees should be assured they will have ample time to enjoy a much-needed break or deal with whatever life throws their way. The employee handbook should outline vacation, sick, personal days, holidays and leave such as parental/maternity, military, jury duty or bereavement. While some companies bundle sick, vacation and personal under PTO, keep in mind this can have limitations in certain states. Additionally, this policy should outline obligations and rights under the Family Medical Leave Act and local family and medical leave laws.

5. Company information

This is where you can place your mission statement, core values and corporate philosophy. It is important to inform employees of what they can expect while working at your company. It can also provide insight into the history, leadership and overall company culture.

An employee handbook is an important and necessary communication tool to educate employees about policies, expectations and culture while providing guidance on procedures and benefits. Each employee should sign a document acknowledging that they received, reviewed and understand all policies put in place. It should also state that policies are subject to change, and it should be updated on a regular basis.

The handbook is not a contract of employment. You may need multiple versions if you have employees in multiple states. Talk to an attorney if you need help with your employee handbook.

Editor’s note: Chrisanne Gultz is an associate at The Cavanagh Law Firm focusing on labor and employment law including litigation and employer defense in state and federal court.


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