If your company plans to hire employees, communicating company policies, standards, expectations and best practices is key to their success. Most businesses create an employee handbook, which serves as an introduction to the business and a helpful resource for employees and the employer alike—but what is an employee handbook, exactly?

Employee handbook contents vary depending on your industry, mission, values, and state. It’s important that if you decide to create your own, it complies with all applicable federal, state, and local laws.

Here’s an overview of employee handbooks, and whether your company needs one.

What is the purpose of the employee handbook?

Think of it as a practical guide to success at your company. Employee handbooks help onboard new people by describing company values, its mission, policies, procedures, benefits, and more. Federal- and state-law-compliant handbooks can also protect employers against discrimination and other related claims. If an issue arises, your employees will have a resource to refer to—and you’ll be able to show that you complied with all applicable laws.

What is included in an employee handbook?

Your handbook contents will vary, depending on your industry, your values, your employee location, and more. Typically, employee handbooks include but are not limited to:

  • Company policies and procedures
  • Company culture, mission statement and values
  • HR information
  • Grievance policies
  • Employee rights and legal policies
  • Information about benefits
  • Dress codes

If you create an employee handbook, you’ll need to research which federal employment laws apply to their company. For instance, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) protections only apply to employers with 50 or more workers. Title VII provisions from the Civil Rights Act of 1964 only apply to private employers with more than 15 employees.

Furthermore, states may impose additional obligations or grant more worker rights. For instance, Minnesota has 15 additional state-specific laws and policies which must be included. State-specific polices cover issues like minimum wage, overtime, protected classes, types of leave, and more.

Finally, some large cities and counties impose their own worker protections. Even if your company is located in another county or state, your employee handbooks need to adhere to the rules where your employees live and work.

Finally, employers need to ensure that company policies comply with local rules. Certain large cities or counties, like Seattle, have additional worker protections and policies. Even if your company is located elsewhere, employee handbooks need to be tailored to where your employees live and work.

Are employers required to have a handbook?

There’s no federal requirement that employers must have an employee handbook, and state laws can vary. However, if you choose to create one, it needs to comply with all federal, state, and local laws.

Even if handbooks aren’t required, hiring employees without one can leave your company open to significant liability. First, it’s harder to onboard new employees and set expectations. You won’t be able to point them to an easy resource with all of the applicable policies and procedures—and that can work against you if employee claims arise. It’s best to create one before you hire your first employee.

Because employee handbooks can be updated over time, you’re not boxed into setting permanent policies from the outset. As you hire more employees and your company policies and legal obligations change, you can update your handbook to reflect those changes.

How to create a professional handbook

Creating an employee handbook can seem daunting, especially if you have employees in more than one state. Each handbook must comply with the laws where each employee lives and works, so it’s incumbent upon you to research the appropriate laws and standards. In other words, Oregon employees need an Oregon-specific handbook, while Delaware employees should receive a handbook reflecting Delaware state policies.

Many employers are tempted to cut corners and use one-size-fits-all templates—but if an employment issue arises, a general handbook template is unlikely to cover all of your bases. On the other hand, hiring an attorney or asking your legal team to draft handbooks from scratch can be time-consuming and expensive.

Instead, use SixFifty’s employee handbook tool to automatically generate your own state-specific employee handbooks. All you need to do is answer some questions about your business, download the generated document and have your lawyer review. No need to have your legal team monitor changes to employment law—we’ll notify you when it happens so you can regenerate your documents.

Create your own employee handbooks with SixFifty

SixFifty’s legal tools pair easy-to-use technology with real legal expertise to save businesses time and money. It’s never been easier to go from wondering “what is an employee handbook?” to creating state-specific, legally compliant handbooks. Schedule a product demo today!

Looking for the employee handbook requirements for your state? View our interactive map for required employee handbook policies by state.