An HR Glossary for HR Terms

Glossary of Human Resources Management and Employee Benefit Terms

Employee Handbook

What Is an Employee Handbook?

An employee handbook (also called a company handbook) helps employees get acquainted with everything they need to be successful and safe in the workplace.

For instance, it provides guidance and information on a company’s:

It also helps protect employers against discrimination or unfair treatment claims by effectively communicating these policies.

What’s the Difference Between an Employee Handbook and a Policy Manual?

The primary difference between an employee handbook and a policy manual is the target audience. An employee handbook covers a variety of workplace policies, but sometimes it’s necessary to have a separate, more detailed manual on hand for HR and leadership to follow.

Here’s a general overview of these two company guides:

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What’s Included In an Employee Handbook?

Your organization’s handbook should be specific to your company, and its contents will vary based on your industry. However, most employee handbooks contain sections similar to the ones outlined below.

Company Mission Statement and Values

This introduction sets the tone for your employee handbook and conveys your brand. It helps employees learn about the company's history, culture, and values. It’s also a great place for a letter from your CEO to help people feel welcome.

Employment Policies

It’s important to include key policies about your organization that uphold your company’s work environment and set expectations. Company policies for an employee handbook may include:

Company Procedures

Employee handbooks outline company procedures that teams must know how to handle as they arise. This includes:

Employee Compensation and Time Off

Your team can review the handbook for general employee compensation information and related insights, such as:

Compliance Policies

Documented compliance policies help protect your organization and its employees while fostering an inclusive workplace. For instance, you may want to include:

What Should Not Be Included In an Employee Handbook?

Whether it’s due to legal reasons or other concerns, a few things shouldn’t be included in an employee handbook. Here are some examples:

If you’re unsure about a section of your handbook, it’s worth consulting your legal team for further guidance.

How Long Is the Average Employee Handbook?

Generally, employee handbooks are 10–50 pages, with an average of around 20 pages. It should be long enough to feel informative without going into too much detail. Using clear, concise language helps keep the page count down, while ensuring the handbook is fully read and understood by everyone at your company.

How Does an Employee Handbook Benefit Employees?

Your organization’s handbook should clearly outline what the employer expects from the employee and what the employee can expect from the company. It’s often distributed to people on or before their first day of work, so they learn more about your organization and prepare for employment.

It can also be a helpful resource after onboarding, as employees can refer back to your organization’s policies when they have questions or want to review their benefits information.

How Does an Employee Handbook Benefit Employers?

An employee handbook keeps all company policies and procedures in one central place and helps the employer stay consistent in enforcing those policies and procedures. This can be essential if legal questions arise or if an employee breaks one of your company policies.

Are Employers Required to Provide an Employee Handbook?

There’s no specific legal requirement for employers to provide an employee handbook. However, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) advises that it’s a key tool for employers and HR departments in addressing conflict and other issues. Companies should distribute an employee handbook (electronically or as a hard copy) to every employee.

An employee handbook communicates the rules. It holds everyone accountable to those standards, while building trust and transparency between employers and their teams.

Do Employees Have to Sign an Employee Handbook?

While not a legal requirement, it’s useful to require every employee to sign a document declaring that they received, read, and will follow the rules outlined in the employee handbook. This can help protect your organization if you’re required to discipline an employee based on the policies and procedures you’ve communicated inside.

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