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13 Tips for Developing an Employee Manual


Large enterprises that have been in business for a time understand the importance of employee manuals. Small business owners, as they grow, may not.

But once a few employees have been hired, it is time to think about developing an employee manual, for several reasons:

  1. Employees need to understand the “rules” under which they need to work and perform. It provides written documentation of expectations.
  2. Employers need policies and procedures in writing, so that if they have to take personnel actions, they have written “backup” and legal protection if they should be challenged in court.
  3. There may be legal and regulatory requirements with which both employer and employee have to comply (e.g. non-discrimination or privacy policies), and these must be codified in writing.
  4. When new employees are onboarded, a comprehensive employee manual means that nothing will be overlooked relative to their rights and responsibilities. The manual must be considered a part of training.

The bottom line is this: both employer and employee need to understand their rights and responsibilities, and these must be in writing.

Crafting that First Employee Manual

Where to begin? That is usually the issue with first-time manual developers. But here are some tips that should help.

Access some model employee manuals. There are plenty online, or you may know another business owner in a related niche who has one you can review and study.

Make a list of the items you want to include in your handbook. Here is a pretty comprehensive list. Some may apply to you; others may not.

Determine who will write the manual. You will want a writer who can take your details and craft a well-structured, clear document that anyone can understand. This is key. As Harry Bingham, writing consultant and owner of Jericho Writers states:

“We consult with a wide variety of authors – fiction and non-fiction. For the non-fiction writer, the biggest challenge is usually simplifying the message for a reading audience that may not understand all of the ‘jargon’ and may get lost in sophisticated vocabulary and complex sentence structures. The principle of ‘KISS’ (keep it simple, stupid) really applies here.”

List of Possible Inclusions

Employee Hours/Attendance: Some employers have strict hour requirements for both full and part-time employees. Do You? If so, state them. There are absences that you will want to “excuse” and those that you will not. Be certain that employees know what constitutes and “excused” absence (illness, death of family member, emergencies, etc.) and what will be considered “unexcused.” What are you willing to tolerate regarding unexcused absences and what will be the consequences?

Pay Schedules/Bonuses/Raises: You may or may not have a codified pay schedule and procedures for determining raises and bonuses. If you do, you need to provide them. Otherwise, you can simply state that salaries, etc. are based upon performance and these decisions are up to supervisors/management.

Benefits: If you offer benefits, spell them out. What are your policies on sick leave, vacation days, unpaid leave, retirement contributions, etc. If you offer health insurance, refer employees to the vendor policies.

Drug and Alcohol Abuse: you must have prohibitive policies on this, and the responses/consequences for abuse in the workplace. Employees under the influence impact the safety of everyone. You may have counseling or employee assistance programs in place – spell them out. But also, be certain that they know the employment consequences (suspension, termination) and what will bring those.

Harassment: This is a legal issue covered by governmental legislation and regulations. Make certain that you have a strong policy on this along with consequences. This can become a legal matter.

Discipline: large organizations usually have a scale of disciplinary actions when employee actions or performance merit consequences. Smaller businesses with fewer employees may be more flexible. But there should be some cascading flow of action.

Safety: If the business involves production equipment, safety measures must be spelled out. Employees must be told that they are responsible for reporting any safety hazards.

Smoking: In many locales, there are governmental regulations regarding smoking in the workplace. You must be in compliance. As well, you may have additional rules that employees must follow. Again, spell them out in detail.

Complaint Processes: Employees must have a process for filing complaints regarding safety, harassment, discrimination, etc. Most governmental entities require this.

Use of Workplace Computers for Communication: More and more, this is becoming an issue. Employees must understand what they can and cannot do during work hours and on workplace devices. If they will be monitored, they need to know in advance.

Can You Cover Every Possibility?

No, you cannot. For this reason, you need to have “disclaimers” and statements that indicate you will determine what constitutes violations of workplace behavior and the consequences. This keeps you from being “boxed in” by just the details of the manual.

Avoid Obligations and Promises

Do not make any promises about continued employment just because an employee abides by the rules of the employee manual. There must be a clause in this manual that states an employee is in his position at your “will” and can be terminated for cause, if you deem it necessary or reasonable.


You do need a signature page that you keep on file – a statement by the employee that he has been provided the manual and understands all of its contents. This is a critical piece of the onboarding process.

These tips should get you started. Remember, however, that an employee manual can end up in court as evidence. It might be wise to consult an attorney before final publication and dissemination.

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