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Anatomy of an Effective Employee Handbook

When employees can access and understand policies, they are more
likely to perceive objectivity and clear process versus arbitrary
or discriminatory management decisions. Similarly, supervisors
are more likely to administer policies in a consistent manner
when there is one go-to reference for all. When designing a
handbook, there are some important items to keep in mind.

At a minimum, an effective handbook should:

  • Orient employees to the employer’s business and values.
  • Inform employees about benefits like vacation and sick time.
  • Summarize procedures for taking medical leave and requesting
  • Include policies against sexual harassment and other forms of
  • State the employer’s rules and standards of conduct.
  • Include an employee acknowledgement form.

Avoid using sample manuals or out-of-state
It is optimal when employee handbooks are
tailored to each specific workplace, keeping in mind the
employer’s own culture and policies, as well as the size and
location of the workforce. Laws regulating employment and
protections for employees often differ based on the number of
employees, as well as the state(s) in which they do business.
Employers should have an experienced employment attorney review
any manual or policy before it is distributed to employees.

Obtain acknowledgement from employees. All
employees should sign an acknowledgement form when the handbook
is initially rolled out and any time there is a change to any
policy. Occasionally, employers encounter an employee who does
not want to sign the handbook receipt form. An employer can
request that an employee provide a written statement indicating
that they refuse to sign the acknowledgement and have the
employee sign and date the statement. This signed statement can
be used as proof that the employee did receive the handbook. If
the employee refuses to create a separate statement, the employer
can advise the employee that they are still obligated to abide by
the policies outlined in the handbook and should then document
the conversation.

Regularly review your handbook. A handbook is a
living document that changes as your organization changes.
Keeping your handbook up to date is important as employees and
supervisors will often refer to it for guidance. Monitor
legislative changes as well as changes that take place within
your organization throughout the year to identify which policies
may need to be updated.

At HR Works, we understand the challenges that employers face
maintaining their employee handbooks. Each year our handbook
policies are reviewed by our attorneys and we then send the
updated policies to our active Virtual HR Helpline clients. This
ensures their handbook policies remain current and legal!

For additional information on partnering with HR Works for your
company’s handbook needs, please call (877) 219-9062 or email us
at This e-mail address is being protected from
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HR Works, headquartered in Upstate New York, is a human resource management outsourcing and consulting firm serving clients throughout the United States for over thirty years. HR Works provides scalable strategic human resource management and consulting services, including: affirmative action programs; benefits administration outsourcing; HRIS self-service technology; full-time, part-time and interim on-site HR managers; HR audits; legally reviewed employee handbooks and supervisor manuals; talent management and recruiting services; and training of managers and HR professionals.