HR Policies

12 Must Have Policies for Your Employee Handbook

A typical employee handbook can have 90 or more policies.  But what are the 12 policies that you MUST have?

Start with a statement of what your company is all about

Policy #1:  This may seem surprising, as many assume that a handbook is focused on legal clauses. But the most important thing to communicate to new and existing employees is the company’s culture, the “who we are and how we do things” statement. Some companies are very good at communicating their mission and values. For example, retailer Nordstrom’s Employee Handbook has a simple statement:

Our number one goal is to provide outstanding customer service. Set both your personal and professional goals high. We have great confidence in your ability to achieve them, so our employee handbook is very simple. We have only one rule.” It is:

Nordstrom Employee Handbook

Software firm Disqus emphasizes its’ scrappy, entrepreneurial culture in statements such as these:

Disqus Employee Handbook

Define the Relationship

Policy #2:  You need a clear and conspicuous statement that the Employee Handbook does not create a contractual employment relationship or otherwise modify employees’ “at will” status. “At will” simply means that both the employer and employee have the right to terminate their relationship at any time, for any reason. Of course, termination cannot be for a discriminatory reason.

Show That the Company is a Safe and Fair Environment

Policy #3:  A statement that you are an equal employment opportunity employer in all activities including hiring, job assignment, and promotion.

Policy #4:  A strong policy that the company will not tolerate illegal harassment and discrimination. This should be accompanied with a specific complaint procedure and examples so that employees know exactly how to proceed if they feel there is an issue

Policy #5:  Include a policy on substance abuse, which is a leading cause of illness/injuries, absenteeism, and low productivity in the workplace.  Do you have a pre- and/or post-hire drug testing policy?  Under what circumstances will you offer assistance to the employee, and when will you terminate their employment instead?

Policy #6:  You should have a policy on workplace violence.  Encourage employees to communicate behavior that seems “off,” especially if there has been a sudden change in behavior, and send a clear message that violence will not be tolerated.

What are the Boundaries?

Policy #7:  Include policies regarding no expectation of privacy in company email, voice mail, internet, or telephone use.

Policy #8:  Have a policy regarding social media and the company expectation that employees will not harm the goodwill and reputation of the company.

Address Common Time Off Questions

Policy #9:  Definition of employment classifications (i.e. what is “full-time” vs. “part-time”), as these are often used to determine eligibility for benefits.  (As an aside, understand the difference between hourly and salaried classifications as well.)

Policy #10:  Clarify your paid time off policies. Who is eligible? What are the benefits? Are you using traditional vacation days and sick days, or more flexible PTO (Paid Time Off)? How about Unlimited Time Off?  What is your accrual policy? Do you pay unused time off upon termination? Is there a state law that requires this?

Policy #11:  Clarify your unpaid time off policies, paying attention to laws that may apply to you depending upon the number of employees working for you, such as the Family Medical Leave Act. Maternity/paternity leave, educational leaves, sabbaticals and many other types of unpaid leave should be considered.

Make Sure Every Employee Reads the Handbook!

Policy #12:  Finally, don’t forget an Acknowledgement and Receipt page, to be signed by each employee. If there is ever a dispute, it is in your best interest that you can prove that the employee received a copy of the handbook.


There are many other policies that you can consider. But the above policies should be in every employee handbook.

Interested in an amazing Employee Handbook without having to put it together yourself?  Schedule a free consultation with Aspire HR today.

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