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7 Things That Small Businesses Should Include in their Employee Handbook

Having an up-to-date, encompassing employee handbook is an important HR responsibility that small employers cannot overlook.

However, business leaders may struggle to create and/or upkeep their handbooks, not knowing what should be included in this important employer document. But not having a handbook isn’t an option in today’s world of HR.

Small employers should be sure to have certain policies and topics outlined and explained in their employee handbooks to help their workforce and avoid potential compliance issues.


One of the first things that small business leaders should look to include in their employee handbook are the missions and values of the company.

These tend to shape the culture of the organization, influence the employee value proposition (EVP), and even play a role in the recruiting process.

Because of their importance, small employers should be sure to make their missions and values visible and easy to find by having them in their handbook.

To that end, small employers must also make their handbook readily available to their workforce, either digitally or with hard-copies. Employees should know where they can find/access their handbook in the event they have questions or concerns.


Some of the most important topics an employer can include in their employee handbook are company policies.

Much like missions and values, what is included in this section will likely differ from employer to employer. However, there are some key areas that should be addressed, such as:

  • Code of conduct
  • Dress code
  • Hours of operation
  • Communications and technology policy
  • Zero-tolerance policies towards workplace violence and harassment

This section plays an important role in informing staff of what is and isn’t acceptable as an employee, which is why it needs to be in a handbook. It can also answer some common questions new workers may have about their employer.


Having a section of the employee handbook dedicated to various employment laws can help employers avoid potential compliance issues (the same goes for company policies).

Some legislation even requires employers to include certain information about a law in a common-area or place that can be easily accessed by employees, such as a handbook.

A few examples of legislation that employers can look to address in their handbook include:

  • Non-discrimination policy
  • Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
  • Reasonable accommodations
  • Equal employment opportunity (EEO) policies

Employers must also be sure to include information about any state-specific laws that apply to the employer. Minimum wage, paid leave, sexual harassment, pay equality, pay disclosure, and many other state level laws should be addressed in the employee handbook.


In addition to having employment legislation and company policies, employers should be sure to outline the process for handling grievances that may arise.

This is critical to ensure that grievances are handled appropriately and in a timely manner, while also remaining consistent from one investigation to another.

Having these processes and procedures helps employers avoid potential compliance issues, while informing employees about what to expect should they come forward with a grievance.

It’s also important for employers to encourage their staff to come forward with grievances to show that the organization takes these matters seriously and seeks to foster a safe working environment for all employees. This is why leadership must ensure that the company’s open-door policy is truly followed by all staff.


The onboarding process for new employees is critical for compliance and setting staff up to succeed in their new role. But this is one area that smaller employers in particular may struggle with.

Having onboarding steps included in your employee handbook, along with important new hire documents (like an at-will employment clause and confidentiality agreement), is recommended.

This section may also include what is expected of new employees within certain time frames after employment begins, key individuals they should meet with, and important company information that a recent hire must learn.

Onboarding plays a key role in employee experience and retention, so don’t overlook its importance to the organization.


Employee benefits and workplace perks are becoming more sought-after by job seekers today, so including and outlining them in an employee handbook is encouraged.

A benefits and perks section can be a go-to resource for employees to better understand all that is available to them, as well as how they can be used.

Here are some examples of what employers can include in a benefits section:

  • Health insurance plans and information
  • Retirement plans
  • Voluntary benefits
  • Paid time off (PTO) policy
  • Paid leave policies (parental leave, sick leave, jury duty, etc.)
  • Employee discounts

A benefits and perks section is important to have for both new hires and current employees alike, which is why it is a recommended section to include in any employee handbook.


When new hires are given their employee handbook, or when existing employees receive a revised/new-version of an employee handbook, employers should be sure to include an acknowledgement section that is signed by employees and returned to a company leader.

This form states that employees have read the handbook and understand all that is included within it. The importance for employers is that this signed acknowledgement form could be important in the event of a conflict or employee lawsuit.

It is also recommended to have two copies of the signed acknowledgement: one that the employee keeps and one the employer can have for their records. Additionally, employees should always be provided with a copy of any document that they have signed.


In addition to what is included in an employee handbook, another important step small employers must make is to update their document whenever there are any company policy or employment legislation updates.

Failing to do so could lead to fines, penalties, and potentially employee lawsuits if information contained within the handbook is outdated or if it is missing key policies.

Seeking assistance from HR experts who can draft, create, and maintain a great employee handbook is one solution small business leaders can explore if they aren’t fully comfortable working on this important employer document on their own.

One area of HR is becoming increasingly more difficult for small employers to properly handle — maintaining compliance with employment laws. Download our eBook, Guide to Employment Law: Topics Employers Must Know to Stay Compliant, to learn more about some of the biggest trends and topics in employment law.

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