What Should Be Included in an Employee Handbook: A Guide

ByDanica Jovic
November 12,2021

An employee handbook is perhaps the single most important document in any company. In addition to communicating your company’s policies, it’s an essential part of onboarding new employees and conveying the core values of your business.   

But in spite of its importance, many small business owners don’t actually have a company handbook. Others don’t recognize its value until something goes wrong. That’s why it’s always better to have one as soon as you start your business. This is the best way to set clear expectations for your employees and outline your legal obligations and their rights. Our guide will tell you what should be included in an employee handbook and how to create one. 

What Is an Employee Handbook?

An employee handbook is also referred to as an employee or company policy manual or a staff handbook. It outlines your company’s mission and culture while informing employees of the legal framework governing their employment. The handbook also includes various other components such as your company’s background information, procedures and policies, working conditions, and employee rights.

This document should be made available to each employee as soon as they are hired. The new employees should also be asked to provide a written acknowledgment that they received the handbook. 

What Topics Should Be Included in an Employee Handbook?

As an employer, you aren’t legally required to provide employees with a policy manual or a handbook. However, this is a highly beneficial communication resource between you and your employees, which is why many small business owners choose to create one. While insurance policies for small businesses protect you from professional mistakes, a written format of the company rules and policies can go a long way in shielding you from discrimination and harassment claims. 

But an employee handbook is not only about the rules and policies. It should also set the tone of the company’s culture and help create a healthy and positive work environment. This is why you should finish writing an employee handbook before you turn to job posting sites and begin the onboarding process. This approach informs employees about everything that’s expected of them before they start working. 

An employee policy handbook should cover several topics, including information about your company (history, values, mission), in-house rules (mobile phone use, for example), mandatory policies (equal employment opportunity and PTO), and human resources information.

The Main Components of an Employee Handbook for Small Business

There is no shortage of templates and employee handbook examples online. Most include the aforementioned key components and additional policies for different business organizations. Below is a list of the most common features in every company policy handbook, including some of the most important small business policies and procedures.

Introduction

Start by introducing employees to your company history and background information. This section can have a welcome note from the CEO, which introduces the company’s team and explains its mission and core values. This is the most flexible part of a handbook and can include everything from the purpose of the handbook to a contractual disclaimer. 

A widely accepted employee handbook definition requires the introduction to explain how your business is organized, who are the owners/CEOs, and where the business is incorporated. These sorts of details are useful to have on hand as most companies that provide business incorporation services, like Northwest Registered Agent, require you to provide this information. 

Onboarding 

Once you’ve outlined your company’s mission and vision, it’s time to explain how your company works. Start with the hiring and onboarding section, where your employees can get informed about the company’s structure, confidentiality agreement (nondisclosure agreement or NDA), and conflict of interest procedures. 

The most basic employee handbook information should also assure your staff that the company guarantees equal employment opportunities for all candidates. EEOC protects candidates against age, race, gender, or any other form of discrimination. 

Code of conduct

This section tells employees how the management expects them to behave, as well as the measures taken by the company against those who violate the rules. It’s one of the most important components on the long list of employment policies and procedures that protect both the company and its workers. Even the most flexible companies have boundaries, and it’s important that these are clearly outlined for everyone’s sake. 

The code of conduct section can include policies regulated by law, like the anti-harassment policy, but it can also outline other small business rules and regulations for employees, like the dress code. 

Payment and compensation 

For employees, this section will probably be among the most important ones, so you should make it clear and comprehensive. This part of an employee manual includes information about the payroll schedule, salary, and bonuses. It should also provide a simple explanation regarding taxes and deductions. While you can use software for calculating and filing taxes, the employee handbook should explain the main payroll deductions (federal, state, and local taxes, for example). 

Benefits 

When creating an employee manual, make sure you include all the perks. The section consists of the various benefits that the company offers to its employees - from sick leave and vacation time to health insurance, retirement plans, and career development. 

It goes without saying that this is a crucial section of your company’s employee handbook for every member of your team. In addition to the most common benefits such as paid time off and health care plans, some businesses include free courses, team-building exercises, office meals, and even unemployment insurance. Your workers will want to see their list of benefits spelled out, and they’ll carefully review these employee handbook contents. 

Employee termination procedure 

If your employee finds a new job or you need to lay someone off, there are procedures the company needs to follow. You should also inform your employees what happens when someone has to leave the team. The standard offboarding procedures include information about the last paycheck delivery and unemployment insurance. The policy can also explain how the last conversation with the company’s HR looks like. 

Employee acknowledgment 

This page should be signed by your employee after reading the handbook. It confirms that the employee understands your company’s rules and policies. 

How to make an employee handbook?

By now, we’ve established that an employee handbook is an important ingredient in any business organization. Yet many businesses decide to bypass this step when setting up their operation. Some business owners find it too difficult and time-consuming.

Here’s the good news. If creating a handbook for your small business is not your cup of tea, you can always outsource this task. Just like there are companies that provide bookkeeping services, there are those that can help you create your handbook from scratch.

Both professional HR consulting companies and law firms offer this type of service. With professional services, you’ll get something that’s customized to fit your business needs, but you don’t need to know how to write an employee handbook. These professionals will take care of everything, from incorporating the federal, state, and local policies into the handbook to writing sections that reflect your company’s culture in the best way possible. 

If you decide to go at it alone, you’ll need to conduct thorough research to identify the policies that need to be included. But this option gives you a chance to be creative. No one knows what kind of atmosphere you want to create in your company better than you. Think about the values you wish to promote and write them down. 

Alternatively, you can use online templates and forms for free to create a small business handbook. Adjust them to fit your needs, check if all mandatory policies are included, and write your expectations and rules. When you’re done, make sure the document is reviewed by legal counsel. 

Tips and tricks for writing an employee handbook:

If you decide to author a handbook on your own, here are some useful tricks that will help you along the way. 

Set the tone 

Make sure that you use a friendly voice when writing a handbook. Of course, you want to be sure that your employees will take it seriously, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to come off as authoritative. You can make an employee handbook by using encouraging and affirmative tones that are as effective as those written from the “don’t perspective.”

Design your handbook

The way you present your handbook is also important. Whether you create an online handbook or a paper copy, make sure it introduces new employees to your company’s colors and logo.

Include images

You can take things a step further when personalizing your handbook. Include photos of your office and team members to give off a more positive and friendly vibe.

What not to include in an employee handbook?

An employee handbook should have all “boring” mandatory policies, but you shouldn’t go into too much detail. A handbook should offer explanations that your employees can understand. This is especially important when it comes to things like health insurance and other benefits. However, for detailed information, there should be links to government websites where your staff can find additional information. 

It’s also important not to confuse an employee handbook with other manuals. While trying to figure out what to include in an employee handbook, some company owners arrive at the conclusion that it’s the same thing as an HR manual. This is incorrect. These are two completely separate documents. 

A handbook is a document for your employees that should be given to them when they start working for your company. Its purpose is to set expectations and communicate policies. 

An HR manual is for you and your human resources team. Its purpose is to explain the process behind your company’s policies. If someone violates any of the policies, your HR will know how to deal with it, thanks to the HR manual.

Frequently Asked Questions
What should be included in a handbook?

An employee handbook contains guidelines and policies that should help an employee fit into a business organization. A good employee handbook includes two key components. The first outlines the rules regarding the company’s in-house policies, like dress code, mobile phone usage, etc. The second one includes legal mandates, like health care policy, benefits, and PTO. There should also be a section explaining the company’s values, vision, and mission.  

How much is an employee handbook?

It depends on who creates it. If you decide to hire a professional to help you make your company handbook, the price ranges between $1,500 and $5,000. If you decide to create an employee handbook on your own, you can save some money, but it will cost you time. And if you are not sure which policies are mandatory for a state your company operates in, you’ll probably need to ask for legal advice. The ideal method is combining the two options. Get templates of employee policies online and create your handbook on your own, and then forward it to a legal service for review. It’s more affordable than paying for the complete service while ensuring that your handbook includes all the mandatory policies. 

How do I create a Small Business Handbook?

Although it might seem complicated, creating a handbook on your own can be fun. Our guide on what should be included in an employee handbook tells you everything you need to know before getting started.

Do small businesses have to have an employee handbook?

Legally, you don’t need to have a standard employee handbook in your company. However, you are legally required to inform your employees about their rights and benefits, like working hours, anti-discrimination and harassment policies, and more. Some business owners don’t have a handbook because it seems too time-consuming and expensive for them. But this is the best way to make sure that all your employees know what’s expected of them and what their rights are.

About the author

Danica’s greatest passion is writing. From small businesses, tech, and digital marketing, to academic folklore analysis, movie reviews, and anthropology — she’s done it all. A literature major with a passion for business, software, and fun new gadgets, she has turned her writing craft into a profitable blogging business. When she’s not writing for SmallBizGenius, Danica enjoys hiking, trying to perfect her burger-making skills, and dreaming about vacations in Greece.

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Instead of leaning on traditional shopping methods, more and more consumers are turning to the internet to purchase items. Mobile phones play a big role here, as they provide a convenient way to shop on the go. What's more, consumers are getting more comfortable with new technologies such as AI, AR, chatbots, and voice search. These eCommerce trends in technology are changing the way we interact with eCommerce platforms and retailers. With all that said, we're confident that you now have a solid understanding of the current eCommerce landscape. Just remember to keep your eyes peeled for new trends so you can stay ahead of the curve.
By Danica Djokic · September 15,2022
As a business owner, you are likely responsible for overseeing all aspects of your company’s operations. This includes setting your own salary. This decision can be difficult to make, especially if you’re not sure what’s standard or how to determine what’s appropriate for your situation. In this article, we’ll discuss some factors you should consider when deciding how much to pay yourself as a small business owner. What To Consider When Setting Your Salary Setting your own salary can be daunting, especially if you’re a freelancer or small-business owner. After all, you need to make enough money to cover your expenses and earn a profit, but you don’t want to price yourself out of the market. So, what factors should you consider when paying yourself from your business? Business Structure One of the first things you should consider is your company’s business structure. Are you a sole proprietor? Do you have a business partner? Are you an S corp? Your company’s business structure will affect how much money you take home and how much in taxes you need to pay. For example, if you’re a sole proprietor, you’ll likely take home less money than if you’re running a corporation because you’ll be paying taxes on both your business income and personal income. On the other hand, if you’re running a corporation, you’ll only be taxed for your corporate income. This means that more of your business profits will stay within the company, which can be reinvested or distributed to shareholders. Business Expenses Another factor to consider when paying yourself as a small business owner is your business expenses. How much does it cost to run your small business? You should consider expenses like rent, utilities, payroll, and marketing. You’ll need to make enough money to cover these costs, plus your personal living expenses. One common mistake small business owners make is not accounting for all of their business-related expenses. Make sure you have a clear understanding of all the costs associated with running your business before you start setting your salary. Personal Living Expenses In addition to business-related expenses, you also need to account for your personal expenses, such as housing, food, transportation, and health care. Again, one common mistake people make is not accounting for all their personal expenses when calculating the business owner’s salary. Industry Standards Another factor to consider is industry standards. What do other businesses in your industry pay their employees? This will help you determine a reasonable salary for yourself as the business owner. Of course, you don’t want to undervalue your services.  Ultimately, setting your salary comes down to determining what you need to earn to cover your costs and make a profit and then finding the right balance between pricing yourself too high and too low. By taking the time to consider all the relevant factors, you can ensure that you set a fair and competitive price for your services. How to Calculate Your Owner’s Pay You should consider a few balance sheet items when calculating your salary as a small-business owner. These include your monthly net income, all business-related taxes and fees, and business expenses.  According to some small business revenue statistics, 86.3% of small business owners earn less than $100,000 a year. However, this does not mean you must stay within this bracket. Below are some steps you can take to get a clear picture of a small business owner’s salary and how to calculate it yourself. Calculate Your Monthly Net Income Your monthly net income is the total revenue your business brings in minus any taxes or fees. This number can fluctuate from month to month, so it’s important to take an average over a period of time to get an accurate number.  Next, you’ll need to subtract all business-related taxes and fees. This includes income taxes, self-employment tax, and any other business-related expenses. Once you have your monthly net income minus taxes and fees, you’ll be left with your profit.  Calculate Your Tax Savings The next step in calculating owner pay is determining your tax savings. This includes any deductions you can take for business expenses, home office expenses, and health insurance premiums. You can consult with a tax professional or use a tax calculator to get an accurate number. Once you have your tax savings figured out, you can add this amount to your monthly net income to get your total monthly compensation. Calculate Your Business Expenses The final thing you’ll need to consider when setting your salary is your business expenses, including office rent, utilities, supplies, and employee salaries. Once you know how much it costs to run your business each month, it will be easier to calculate how much to pay yourself as a small business owner. One mistake many small business owners make is not accounting for their salary when calculating their business expenses. This can lead to severe financial problems down the road, so be sure to include yourself in the equation. By following these steps, you should be able to come up with fair and reasonable compensation for yourself as a small business owner. Remember to avoid common mistakes, and you’ll be on your way to success.  Ways To Pay Yourself As a business owner, you have two options: Either pay yourself a salary or take distributions from your small business. Here are the pros and cons of an owner’s draw vs. a salary.  Paying Yourself a Regular Salary To pay yourself a regular wage, just like you would an employee, you’ll need to set up payroll for your business and withhold taxes from your paycheck. One advantage of this method is that it can help you separate your personal and business expenses and make it easier to track your business expenses come tax time. The downside of drawing a salary is that it’s subject to payroll taxes, which can eat into your earnings. Additionally, if you have a slow month or two, you may find yourself struggling to cover your personal expenses if you’re relying solely on your business income. An Owner’s Draw If you are self-employed and paying yourself a salary, an owner’s draw is another method you can use. This method is often used by small business owners with irregular or variable income. With an owner’s draw, you simply draw money out of your business bank account as needed to cover your personal expenses. One advantage of this method is that you don’t have to worry about payroll taxes. Additionally, it can give you more flexibility regarding how much money you take out of your business each month. However, one downside is that it can be challenging to track your small business expenses come tax time. So, which method is right for you? How to pay yourself as a sole proprietor? Ultimately, it depends on your circumstances and the needs of your business. If you have a stable and predictable income, having a regular salary may be the best option. However, if your income is variable or unpredictable, an owner’s draw may be a better option. Final Thoughts Paying yourself as a business owner can be a tricky task. And there’s no universal rule on how much business owners should pay themselves. However, by following some simple guidelines, you can ensure that you are fairly compensated for your work without putting your business finances at risk.  What’s most important is to find a method that works for you and your business. And, of course, to avoid any common pitfalls.
By Nikolina Cveticanin · September 14,2022

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