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Write an Employee Handbook Step-by-Step | Startup Legal Essentials

Whether you're bringing your first staff member onto the team or ushering in the hundredth, it can be tempting to just lay down the rules out loud. But for legal, organizational, and communicative purposes, your startup will seriously benefit from a solid employee handbook.


How to Write an Employee Handbook

Today, we're going to lead you through the design process step-by-step to get your handbook printed and on the office bookshelf as soon as possible. Open a blank document and follow along.


1. Give a Warm Welcome

Make sure your new recruit feels welcomed. This is a great opportunity to give a brief overview of the company's history, mission, and your values. Not only can this help your new employee to work happier and more passionately for a company they care about, but they'll emanate that energy for the next new recruit.


Make sure to include a specific and tailored welcoming message from your team's CEO or leadership staff. The more your new employee feels acknowledged, the more they'll want to show what great work they can do.


2. Establish the Company Culture

Before you dive into the nitty-gritty details of what rules you need your employee to follow, explain why. What are the core values of the business? Your guiding principles? Emphasize a focus on diversity and inclusion to encourage your employees to think outside the box and feel welcome no matter their background or experience.


Writing a Code of Conduct

This is a great location to include a Code of Conduct. Help make your employee feel safe and respected, as well as set guidelines for how they should interact with others. Here's an example to get you started, but feel free to modify and customize to suit your team:


"1. Professional Behavior: At [insert company here], we:

  • Treat all colleagues, clients, and partners with respect and courtesy.

  • Maintain a positive and collaborative work environment.

  • Avoid any form of discrimination or harassment.

2. Integrity and Ethics: At [insert company here], we:

  • Act honestly and ethically in all business dealings.

  • Avoid conflicts of interest and disclose any potential conflicts promptly.

  • Protect confidential information and respect intellectual property rights.

3. Communication: At [insert company here], we:

  • Use professional and respectful language in all communications.

  • Listen actively and consider diverse perspectives.

  • Report any concerns or unethical behavior to the appropriate channels.

4. Workplace Respect: At [insert company here], we:

  • Respect the diversity of our workforce.

  • Create an inclusive and welcoming environment for everyone.

  • Avoid disruptive behavior that negatively impacts colleagues.

5. Confidentiality:

  • Safeguard confidential information, including company and client data.

  • Do not disclose sensitive information to unauthorized individuals.

  • Follow company policies regarding the use and disclosure of confidential information.

6. Social Media and Online Conduct:

  • Represent the company professionally on social media.

  • Exercise discretion when discussing company matters online.

  • Do not engage in online behavior that reflects poorly on the company.

7. Use of Company Resources:

  • Use company resources responsibly and for business purposes.

  • Report any loss, theft, or damage to company property promptly.

  • Follow company policies regarding the use of technology and equipment.

8. Health and Safety:

  • Adhere to safety guidelines and protocols.

  • Report any unsafe conditions or incidents immediately.

  • Prioritize the well-being of yourself and your colleagues.

9. Compliance with Laws and Regulations:

  • Adhere to all applicable laws and regulations.

  • Report any potential legal issues or violations promptly.

10. Continuous Improvement:

  • Actively participate in professional development opportunities.

  • Provide constructive feedback for the improvement of processes and procedures.

  • Strive for personal and professional growth.


By signing below, I acknowledge that I have read and understood the [Company Name] Code of Conduct and agree to abide by its principles.


[Employee Name], [Date]"


3. Put Work Policies on Paper

Ever worked a job where no one really knew the policies? Bypass the confusion and back & forth by setting policies in stone. These may include:

  • Expected work hours and attendance.

  • Policies for working overtime.

  • Breaks & meal periods.

  • Telecommuting & remote work policies.


4. Organize Compensation & Benefits

Making an employee's salary and pay frequency clear will avoid potential confusion and frustration:

  • Salary and pay frequency.

  • Benefits overview (health insurance, retirement plans, etc.).

  • Bonus and incentive programs.

  • Employee assistance programs.

  • Wellness programs.

  • Outline any other unique benefits or perks you offer.


5. Establish Time Off & Leave Policies

Unless you want to call your employee for a last-minute meeting only to discover they're halfway across the world on vacation, establish the following policies:

  • Vacation and paid time off (PTO).

  • Sick leave.

  • Holidays

  • Any other leave types applicable to your business.


At-Will Employment Statement*

This may be a great spot to include a statement regarding the employment arrangement. Here's an example:


"Your employment with [Company Name] is at-will. This means that either you or [Company Name] may terminate the employment relationship at any time, with or without cause, and with or without notice. No employee or representative of [Company Name] has the authority to enter into any agreement for employment for a specified period of time or to make any agreement contrary to the at-will relationship. Any such agreement must be in writing and signed by the Chief Executive Officer of [Company Name].


"By accepting employment with [Company Name], you acknowledge that your employment is at-will, and you agree that both you and [Company Name] have the right to terminate the employment relationship at any time for any reason, with or without cause, and with or without notice."


*Employment laws and regulations vary by jurisdiction. Consult with a legal professional to ensure that the at-will employment statement you write complies with all local laws and regulations.


6. Instill Performance Expectations

How will you check in on your employee's progress? Let them know these expectations in advance to make evaluations and meetings go more smoothly. Outline any:

  • Performance evaluation processes.

  • Professional development opportunities.

  • Promotion and career advancement policies.


7. Construct Workplace Health and Safety Procedures

Will your employees work in-office? How about a warehouse? Expecting your employees at company-run locations brings a new set of rules and safety policies. In this employee handbook, it's a good idea to include:

  • Workplace safety guidelines.

  • Emergency procedures.

  • How to report accidents and incidents (and how you'll report them, too!)


8. Plan for Technology & Equipment Use

It's tough to even think of a startup today that doesn't use technology. What programs and devices will your business utilize? How should your employee use that equipment? Write out:

  • Acceptable use of company equipment.

  • Acceptable use of company technology.

  • Software platform log-in policies.

  • Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies.

  • In-office or on-the-clock expectations for device usage.


9. Establish Communication Guidelines

We're in the depths of the employee handbook now. Answer all of these just once, and you may save hours of confusion, miscommunication, and unmet expectations. Here's the page to tell your employee what you expect with their:

  • Email and communication etiquette.

  • Social media use policies.

  • Confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements.


10. Plan for Employee Conduct & Discipline

As much as you love every employee and hope they'll be the best-performing team in existence, conflict resolution or discipline is ultimately inevitable. Be prepared before you have to deal with these situations by establishing:

  • Disciplinary procedures.

  • A grievance resolution process.

  • Termination policies.


11. Ensure Legal Compliance

Employee rights and regulations vary from place to place. Take time to review your local, state, and federal regulations. Add any relevant labor laws to your handbook so your employees know their rights.


12. Confirm Acknowledgement & Agreement

The whole handbook could be rendered meaningless if your new employee never agrees to it, so get it in writing! After the employee reads through the sections above, ask for their signature to verify they agree with the expectations and will abide by the rules you've established.

  • For example: "I have read and understand the [insert Company] employee handbook."


13. Return to Make Updates & Revisions

Set a reminder in your calendar to revisit your handbook on a later date. Also be sure to include a note in the original handbook stating that you have the right to make revisions, even after your employee has initially signed. Alternatively, it may be a great idea to send the handbook to your employee again if you make revisions, just to ensure that everyone is on the same page about changes and reaffirms the expectations.

  • For example: "[Insert Company] has the right to update and revise this handbook, with a commitment to communicate changes to its employees."


After completing your handbook based on the steps above, or even just an outline, it's crucial to consult with your legal professionals to ensure compliance with relevant employment laws and regulations.


And with that, you're done! Congratulations on writing a solid employee handbook that will help set clear expectations for all of the great employees you hire in the future.


Two blue books
Art by Chaowat Rittizin, Vecteezy
 

It's important for us to disclose the multiple authors of this blog post: The original outline was written by chat.openai, an exciting new AI language model. The content was then edited and revised by Lindey Hoak.

"OpenAI (2024). ChatGPT. Retrieved from https://openai.com/api-beta/gpt-3/"


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