An HR Glossary for HR Terms
Glossary of Human Resources Management and Employee Benefit Terms
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:
- Mission, vision, and values
- Policies and procedures
- Workplace code of conduct
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:
- Employee handbook: The intended audience is the employee, and it serves as a valuable resource to inform, empower, and protect.
- Policy manual: The intended audience is a supervisor or HR professional, and it’s used when more information is needed to understand rules or processes in greater detail.
Employees want to be heard. Is your organization listening?
With accurate, reliable employee surveys in BambooHR, you'll gain the insight you need to prevent burnout, improve morale, and stop premature turnover in its tracks.
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.
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:
- Code of conduct
- Communications policies
- Social media and internet usage policies
- Work-from-home guidelines
- New hire and separation policies
- Situational stances (e.g. inter-office dating, anti-nepotism)
- Health and safety practices
- Dress code
Employee handbooks outline company procedures that teams must know how to handle as they arise. This includes:
- Performance reviews
- Promotions and raises
- Injury reporting
- Company grievances
Employee Compensation and Time Off
Your team can review the handbook for general employee compensation information and related insights, such as:
- Personal time off (PTO)
- Payroll deductions
- Military leave
- Bereavement leave
- Workers’ compensation
- Employee benefits
- Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
Documented compliance policies help protect your organization and its employees while fostering an inclusive workplace. For instance, you may want to include:
- Nondiscrimination policies
- Harassment policies
- Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) statement
- Disability and religious accommodations
- Employee rights
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:
- Overly restrictive social media policies: This may not only reflect negatively on your company, but it can also violate employee rights as given in Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act.
- Rigid disciplinary policy language: Disciplinary policies should include a disclaimer that states your company has the right to handle infractions on an individual basis, leaving room for unforeseen circumstances.
- Legal documents: An employee handbook is not a contract. Non-compete clauses, non-disclosure agreements, and other legal forms should be presented separately.
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.
How do your employees REALLY feel?
Get actionable insights in minutes with research-backed, anonymous employee surveys in BambooHR.