Turning your template into a custom employee handbook

Most companies create their employee handbook from a template. Here's how to turn that template into your own customized handbook.

by Brette Sember, J.D.
updated May 11, 2023 ·  4min read

It's common for small businesses to start with a generic employee handbook template, but you should take the time to customize a template for your company for the best outcome.


What is an employee handbook?

An employee handbook sets out your company's policies, procedures, rules, expectations, and the requirements that all employees must follow. It also sets out the responsibilities of the employer and the general procedures they follow. It has a broad purpose (setting a tone and conveying a mission or purpose) as well as a narrow purpose (explaining polices and rules so they can be followed and understood).

A custom employee handbook will include all of this information as it applies to your specific company. While a template will offer suggestions and options, you must create the handbook so that it applies to your own particular rules.

The handbook is meant to be a guideline, not a detailed line by line book of regulations and procedures.

Information you should include in your custom employee handbook

Your employee handbook should be a detailed document so that employees can use it to find answers to their questions about policies and procedures. Note that your template will likely include all of these items. You will need to edit the individual entries to correspond with the procedures and policies you are implementing within your company:

  • Company history, mission, and vision. This should give your employees a sense of who you are as a company and what you stand for.
  • Time off policies. This is one of the most important sections from the employee's perspective and should detail how much time off each employee is given, how it accrues, how it is paid, and when it must be requested. It should include paid holidays, vacation, sick time, family leave, and other types of leave.
  • Pay and promotions. The handbook should explain how and when payment is made. It should discuss required work hours, salary, hourly wages, overtime, direct deposit, bonuses, as well as evaluations, performance reviews, and promotions. Information about expenses should also be included.
  • Benefits. This section should discuss health and any other insurance as well as retirement plans and stock options. It should discuss eligibility and enrollment periods as well as employee contributions.
  • Employee requirements. This section can include items such as code of conduct, dress code, smoking and substance abuse policies, harassment and discrimination policies, work at home policies, break time, use of internet and company email, food restrictions or requirements, parking, rules for entering and exiting the premises, and disciplinary proceedings.
  • Office procedures. Information about onboarding, offboarding, communication channels and requirements, filing complaints, job classifications, restricted areas, and use of specific equipment should be included in this section.
  • Disclaimers. The handbook should include a statement that it does not create a contract, change the at-will nature of the employee's position, or intend to address all situations that arise.
  • Acknowledgment form. The handbook should come with a form employees must sign stating that they have received the handbook.

Things you should not include in your employee handbook

While your employee handbook should be informational, it is not meant to include every situation or every detail. Avoid including the following items in the handbook:

  • Contracts. The handbook is not a contract so you must be sure to have employees complete separate documents when you hire them that contain the details of their employment.
  • Specific steps and procedures. While the handbook should offer guidance and information, it is not meant to provide specific legal steps that must be taken in each situation. Instead, offer general guidance in the handbook and have your HR department provide legal guidelines for each procedure in question.
  • Promises. The handbook should offer general descriptions of policies at hand but should not promise how your company will react in any situation. For example, never promise annual reviews or salary increases in writing in the handbook because an employee can then hold you to that as a promise.

Laws affecting your employee handbook

There is no law stating that you must have an employee handbook. However, there are a variety of federal laws that impact employers, some of which may or may not apply to you, depending on the number of employees you have. Check with your attorney to determine which of the following apply to you:

  • Affirmative Action Program
  • Affordable Care Act
  • Age Discrimination in Employment Act
  • Americans with Disabilities Act
  • Civil Rights Act of 1964
  • Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act
  • Consumer Credit Protection Act
  • Employee Polygraph Protection Act
  • Employment Retirement Income Security Act
  • Equal Pay Act
  • Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act
  • Family and Medical Leave Act
  • Federal Insurance Contribution Act
  • Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act
  • Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act
  • Immigration Reform and Control Act
  • Internal Revenue Code
  • National Labor Relations Act
  • Occupational Safety and Health Act
  • Sarbanes-Oxley Act
  • Uniform Guidelines for Employment Selection Procedures
  • Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act
  • Worker Readjustment Retraining Notification Act

Your state also has laws that apply to employers, which you must be aware of, so check with your attorney for information in your state.

Your employee handbook is an essential document that benefits both you and your employees. Customizing your handbook template will ensure that you create a document that includes all of the specifics as they pertain to your individual company and make all of your policies clear and understandable.

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Brette Sember, J.D.

About the Author

Brette Sember, J.D.

Brette Sember, J.D., practiced law in New York, including divorce, mediation, family law, adoption, probate and estates,… Read more

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of the author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.