Seven Dos and Don'ts Regarding Your Employee Handbook

Employee Handbook
Employee Handbook

Happy February! The month when seed catalogs arrive, chocolates abound, and days are starting to feel a little bit longer. What should you do with that extra sunshine? Spend a few minutes thinking about…(drum roll please)... human resources policies!

Okay, this isn’t nearly as exciting as picking out employee logo gear or planning team building experiences, but it is a critical component of building a team.

Whether you call it an Employee Handbook, Personnel Manual, Policy Book or something else, the documentation related to employment and workplace expectations is essential to your company’s well being. It can be a north star to help ensure clarity and consistency, and be a source of truth during sticky situations. Notably, it can also help protect the organization, which is no small thing.

Crafting an effective handbook is key, but pitfalls often lurk in the details. 

Here are several things to keep in mind as you assess and build out your handbook.

1. Fit it to your organization 

Do customize the handbook to your organization. Many organizations use a generic template instead of focusing on the personality of the organization. Include information about your values, the history of the organization, and use it as a way to reinforce the positive aspects of your workplace culture and dedication of the leadership to creating an environment that supports, rewards and recognizes its most important asset - its people.

2. Tone and language

Do be intentional about the language that you use, and the tone that you are trying to set. You will want to make sure that the language is clear and understandable to your employees. Sometimes a handbook feels like the employer is assuming the worst about employees, and there is a lot of, “You will be severely disciplined if you XYZ.” While on the other hand, sometimes the language is too loose, and there is confusion about what is really meant. Like, “Feel free to consider wearing attire that won’t get you kicked out of a heavy metal concert.”

3. Culture

Don’t miss out on the opportunity to share your expectations around how people should treat each other, what behaviors are key, striving for a culture of inclusion and where people can feel like they belong.

4. Electronic use & Social media

Don’t skip or skimp out on this area! This is an area that you want to be thoughtful and thorough. Be clear with your employees about privacy, ability to use social media during work hours, types of content that can be posted on company websites, what can/can’t be posted on social media about the company, cyber security training, etc.

5. Only say it if you mean it

Don’t include policies that are just lip service. My view of an employee handbook is that everything in there needs to be consistently enforced. I heard a client once say, “If you break a policy, either it is a bad manager or a bad policy.”  I really think that this is important and true. Also, if there is an area where there are a lot of special situations, perhaps, consider not having a policy on it to begin with.

6. Staying current

Do keep on top of legal and compliance issues that impact your employees. As an example, the Department of Labor has recently revised the regulations for classifying employees vs. independent contractors, which is an issue that affects many of our startup and small business clients. The Society of HR Management is concerned that there will be a rash of lawsuits due to employers misclassifying employees and is lobbying for changes to the rule to make it easier to apply. As it stands now, many businesses that have independent contractors that perform the same duties as other workers will be required to change their status from 1099 to W-2, or be subject to a variety of fines and penalties.

7. Get legal advice

Do get your attorney involved. Especially with AI, it is pretty easy to make a handbook template. However, there are state and federal laws that are constantly changing, and there are a lot of ways that you can protect the company through appropriate policies and language. Thus, before you make a handbook official, do have your attorney do a final review if they weren’t involved with the whole thing.

With regular maintenance, your Employee Handbook will continue to evolve as a north star for your company, providing your employees with clarity, consistency, and a shared source of truth.

What to dive deeper?

  • Feel free to read our Handbook Primer whitepaper (Located at the end of this blog).

Need more support? 

  • Handbook Checkup - We will review your handbook and compare it to our checklist of best practice HR policies to identify gaps. The fee for this checkup is $500 (Free for our Fractional HR Services package clients). 
  • Book an appointment to discuss your Employee Handbook or other HR needs, or feel free to reach out at (734) 747-2936 to schedule a conversation about building better teams for your organization!

Stay tuned! 

Next month I’ll be musing about performance reviews! Do you have a question that I can answer - send it to me at


About The Author: Amy Cell

Amy Cell is a renowned and passionate pioneer in HR and Talent initiatives. She also leads an innovative consulting firm that specializes in recruiting and HR services for startups, small businesses, and municipalities.

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