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Creating an Employee Handbook from Scratch

Sam Spano

While employee handbooks aren’t legally required, they’re widely considered essential to the HR department. An employee handbook crystallizes the relationship between employer and employee and provides critical information on a variety of workplace matters.

A good employee handbook should:

  • Codify policies that protect both employers and workers.
  • Clarify organizational procedures and employee benefits.
  • Outline the terms of employment at your company.

But it’s not only about the rules and regulations. It’s also one of the primary welcome documents you’ll give to a new hire.

In that spirit, use it to:

  • Articulate your organizational values and mission.
  • Calibrate employee and employer expectations.
  • Simplify the onboarding process.

Here’s what you need to create an employee handbook from the ground-up.

Employee Handbook Outline

If you’re starting from square one, collect a few free employee handbook templates from reputable organizations. Here are examples from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) and The Balance. Once you’re finished piecing your own document together, run it by a legal consultant. This way, you won’t unintentionally violate any federal compliance regulations or make unlawful assertions.

Welcome Message

Use the first few pages of your employee handbook to express your company’s values through a mission statement, a brief company history or a message from your CEO. Also include a contractual disclaimer and statements on equal opportunity employment and the at-will status of your employer-employee relationship.

Company Policies and Procedures

The policies and procedures section will make up the bulk of your employee handbook. While you can arrange this section in any order, employees will definitely look for guidance on how to behave while on-the-clock at your company. Discuss your policies for employee attendance, absences, leave, overtime, timekeeping, meals and breaks. It’s also helpful to explain the pay schedule, payroll deductions and benefits. Your objective here is to clarify your expectations and give staff the resources they need in case something comes up.

Elsewhere in this section, identify policies related to safety and security. Mention any and all corporate policies related to discrimination, sexual harassment, drug and alcohol use, weapons in the workplace, personal safety and emergency procedures.

Additionally, employees may appreciate explanations of their company’s dress code and stance on the use of personal devices, company property, social media and other resources. You’ll also want to include language related to certain federal regulations to inform your employees of their rights:

  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
  • Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
  • Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Finally, establish guidelines for your company’s standards of behavioral conduct, disciplinary procedures and termination or exit process.

Written Acknowledgment of Receipt

Although the handbook shouldn’t be used as an employment contract, SHRM advises that you keep a written acknowledgment on file to prove that your employee received the employee handbook. This way, you have something in writing that establishes your employee’s understanding of the policies outlined within. To make sure they really do understand everything, carve out some handbook review time during training and encourage new hires to come to you with questions.


When creating an employee handbook:

  • Start with a welcome message to communicate your mission.
  • Include policies and procedures related to important employer-employee matters.
  • Conclude with an acknowledgment form.

Handbooks are meant to streamline the onboarding process, but manual recordkeeping is a burden on new HR teams.

Request a free demo of JazzHR to see how automation tools can take simplification a step further.


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