10 things to include in your employee handbook

Features - Management

Employee compliance issues can be hard to navigate, but a solid employee handbook can help hold you and your workers accountable.

March 21, 2018

One of the main functions of an employee handbook is to set expectations across the board that apply to all employees. Patrick McGuiness, an attorney representing green industry businesses, says you can’t just assume your workers have read the handbook because you’ve given it to them.

An effective employee handbook should offer guidance for staff of every level, and provide a unifying mission statement.

And, if you don’t have a handbook, you should start writing one now. “Handbooks are useless if they just sit on the shelf,” McGuiness says.

What to include

The handbook should be a resource for your employees, and for you, to refer to when a problem arises. Here’s what it should contain:

1. Company goals and missions. You need to be able to clearly define why you operate the business the way you do. Starting off with the goals of your company will ensure everyone is on the same page. “You want a true mission; cut the corporate terms,” McGuiness says. “Give them a sense of why they work for your company and not your competitor.” If an employee is not on board with the company mission, he or she may not belong at your company.

2. The at-will disclaimer. “Don’t inadvertently create a contract,” McGuiness says. A handbook is not a binding contract for your employees. McGuiness says at-will employment is the norm for most businesses, which means a worker can be fired at any time for any reason or leave at any time for any reason. Additionally, you can include procedures for termination such as requesting two weeks’ notice.

3. Customer service policies. This will be general because you can’t even begin to think of every possible scenario. Write down how your customers should be treated. “Get buy-in from your employees,” McGuiness says. “If they have an interest in these policies and procedures, they are way more likely to follow it.”

4. Time-off procedures. This can include a breakdown of vacation days, paid holidays, sick time and attendance. Having a written attendance policy that you and your employees can refer to will keep your crew members accountable for showing up on time.

5. Substance abuse policy. Drug testing policy requirements vary by state, but McGuiness recommends you address both legal and illegal drugs. “While you can’t ask a potential employee about details of their medical history, you can require your employees to tell you if they are on a prescription that will impair them from doing their jobs safely,” McGuiness says.

6. Harassment and discrimination policies. Offer a clear explanation that the company has no tolerance for harassment or discrimination of any kind. Be sure to include an explanation of procedures for employees who feel they have experienced harassment.


7. Discipline. The handbook should outline your levels of discipline, should an employee need it. McGuiness recommends a paper trail for that, as well. “Write it down,” he says. “Write the warning on a piece of paper so that you have it. Make them sign it.”

8. Offer guidance. McGuiness says you don’t need to write out your entire benefits plan, but providing your employees with a reference guide of contacts will be helpful.

9. Technology policy. “Don’t ignore technology,” McGuiness says. “You need to address tech use at work.” He recommends designating break time for personal phone use. “This may even be a safety concern if your workers have their phones on while on a job.” Be sure to state in the handbook that you reserve the right to monitor company technology use as well.

10. Create a form at the end of the handbook. A signature is key. Have the employee sign off, confirming that they reviewed the handbook, had a chance to ask questions and understood the content. You can even offer incentives like a small raise for completing the handbook.

Lauren is assistant editor of sister publication Lawn & Landscape magazine.