5 Considerations when Creating and Updating Your Employee Handbook

The employee handbook is a great reference tool for both employees and managers.  But did you know that you are not legally required to have a handbook?  Nope. Not required at all.

Yet, is an employee handbook recommended?  Absolutely!

The handbook is a key reference for your employees and your managers.  This provides consistent policies to follow and takes the guesswork out of what needs to be done.  Because consistency is a beautiful thing! 

Items to Consider when Creating and Updating your Employee Handbook

Consideration #1

Your handbook:  Ensure that it is in your company voice and aligned with the greater WHY and culture of your organization. Why? Because what is most important in the work that you do and the way in which your employees contribute are integral to that work.  Specifics to include: 

  • Company History – Let your staff know WHY you do what you do.  Elicit the key emotions that will motivate THEM to give their best every day that is steeped in a rich, productive and impactful history.  
  • Mission, Vision, and Values –These encompass the WHY you are doing what you are doing and the key things you look to do each and every day. 

Rules of the game:  The handbook lays out the minimum rules.  These are the local, state and federal laws written in a way that aligns with your company culture and why. And these give clear direction to your employees.  Some items to include:

  • Wage and Hour Laws 
  • Family and Medical Leave (50+ Federal)
  • Equal Employment Opportunity Policies
  • American with Disabilities Act
  • Worker’s Compensation
  • Local laws (such as sick leave)
  • At-Will employment

Organizational Policies:  Think of perks and benefits.  Outline paid time off, employee behavior, promotion, etc.  These are any policies that are not required by law. Yet, these are a part of your organizational culture. Some additional examples include: 

  • Extended Care Leave Policy 
  • Casual Friday
  • Remote Work Policy
  • Reinstatement Policy

Get a signature: Having a handbook does not mean much without an employee signature.  Yes, you need an employee acknowledgment with a date that acknowledges that the employee has received the handbook and that they will follow what the handbook has outlined.  This then needs to go into the employee file or an electronic version of the employee file.  Anytime a handbook policy is changed, the employee should acknowledge that change with a new signature.


Consistency:  Your handbook is a key foundational piece for your organization and is one part of a greater whole.  Review your handbook at least annually to ensure that you are not making any promises in your handbook that are not being followed. AND, ensure that the handbook does not become too stringent. A handbook that is too stringent does not allow management to support the current staff and policies. Lastly, determine which specific areas your management team and staff need additional training on. Such areas may include:     

  • Culture and Behaviors 
    • Confidentiality
    • Harassment and Discrimination
    • Dress Code
  • Fair Labor Standards Act
    • Minor Work Hours
    • Interns
    • Working off the clock (example: responding to text messages)
    • Hours
  • American with Disabilities Act
    • Reasonable Accommodation
    • Interactive Process

Want more, we have a full checklist of policies included in our HR Foundations program course AND a complimentary training in our Foundation Library.   

5 Steps to Address Vodka in an Employee’s Water Bottle

A water bottle on an employee’s desk or a cup of coffee seems very, very reasonable.  Yet, what happens when there is more than coffee or water in those containers? 

The answer depends on your policies, state law, and what you already know about this employee.  Here are 5 steps to review when facing a situation of potential substance abuse on the job.   

5 Steps to Review

Step 1

Address the impact the substance abuse has on the employee’s behavior through your handbook policy, cultural norms and job descriptions. 

Step 2

Ensure you have a clearly written job description with physical abilities that name what the expected behavior is.   

Step 3

Review your handbook policy to determine what your Drug and Alcohol policy states and ensure you are adhering to it.  The following are key items typically included in a drug and alcohol policy: 

  • Prohibit the use and possession of illegal drugs and/or alcohol in the workplace.
  • Prohibit employees from working while under the influence of illegal drugs or alcohol.
  • Outline the substance abuse/drug testing programs.
  • Address an employer’s right to immediately test an employee with reasonable suspicion that they may be under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • State the consequences to employees who do not follow these policies.

Step 4

Investigate the situation.  If your policy provides the support to conduct reasonable suspicion testing and you have staff onsite trained to complete this, complete that assessment. 

Step 5

Review what you already know about this employee.  Do they have a noted disability or a perceived disability under the American with Disabilities Act?  Have accommodations been made in compliance with the Family and Medical Leave Act?  This will determine if you must enter into an interactive process to provide reasonable accommodation.  The key here is that you have already addressed the IMPACT the substance abuse has on the organization, specifically relating to safety concerns. 

Final Thoughts

In any case, a good offense is the best defense for any employment law situation.  Therefore, having strong policies and ensuring your managers are trained to identify key HR red flags will lead to increased employee productivity and engaged staff.

If you have more questions than answers after reading this blog, please check out our complimentary trainings HERE.  We discuss both organizational culture and compliance.  If you like what you find, we would love to continue the conversation.   

Are you being Honest when Writing Job Descriptions?

Job descriptions serve several important functions.  They set clear expectations for your staff, managers and the business owner.  AND they protect both you and the employee from the various employment laws.   

Yet, I read and review so many job descriptions that are like hopes and dreams.  A unicorn that does not exist.  This sets your organization, you, and your staff, up for failure.   

Let’s Ask a Few Questions

  • Have you ever been in a role where you felt like you could never 100% succeed? 
  • Have you ever been a manager that is unable to meet your expectations and those of your staff because the expectations were not aligned?  
  • Have you found that you can meet 80% of the job but not 100% with the candidates that you are interviewing?   

In all these cases there are missed opportunities in attracting and retaining the best employees for the role.  Not only that, you may be in a situation where you are unintentionally discriminating against a group of individuals. 

Below are 5 questions you can ask to determine if your job descriptions are an accurate reflection of the work being done by your staff. 

Do your essential functions match what is ACTUALLY done by the staff in that role? 

Essential function:  Sort materials, such as metals, glass, wood, paper or plastics, into appropriate containers for recycling. 

Actual Job:  Sorting material and driving a forklift to move bins to sort. Are your essential functions written in SMARTY goals?  

Are your essential functions written in SMARTY goals?  

  • Essential function states:  Sort materials, such as metals, glass, wood, paper or plastics, into appropriate containers for recycling. 
  • SMARTY Essential Function:  Sort 10 tubs of materials such as metals, glass, wood, paper or plastics into appropriate containers with a 99% accuracy rate per hour to preserve our environment while delighting our clients. 

Do you require a specific level of education that is not necessary for the position? 

  • Does an Accounting Clerk really need a bachelor’s degree in business management or accounting?  Probably not!  This could be revised as:  Associates degree in accounting or business management preferred.  

Do you require a drivers’ license for all positions, yet only 10% of your staff are required to drive in that specific role? 

  • Use the terms preferred vs. required to ensure that you are attracting a wide range of applicants and not discriminating against individuals.  

Are your physical requirements accurate based on what the individual is actually doing? 


Ensuring you have accurate job descriptions is the foundation for a strong culture built on clear expectations and accountability.  Curious to how you build out your entire HR infrastructure in an easy to follow format that weaves in your culture to support staff and company success?  Check out our HR Foundation Library

9 Things to do Before Hiring your First Employee

Congratulations! You’re hiring your first employee.

You’ve been planning on this for months. And now it is finally in the budget. Yet, you’re super curious about what you may be missing. You’re in luck! Here is a checklist of items to ensure you have in place before bringing on your first employee.

Register with the State

Yes.  You need to make sure that your business is registered with the State.  You will need this for both unemployment and worker’s compensation.  You will need to ensure that these are both taken care of first as it could delay your ability to onboard with a payroll company.  The state systems can be a bit wonky.  We recommend picking up the phone and calling the agency if you run into roadblocks.  You will find that most staff truly want to help you be successful! 

Payroll Company

You’re hiring your first employee, and you want to make sure they are paid correctly AND on time.  You will need some way to process your payroll, register new employees with the state, pay your quarterly taxes and issue your W2’s at the end of the year.  A note of caution – (possibly from personal experience) – ensure that you have the payroll system 100% in place prior to bringing a staff person on.  You need to pay quarterly taxes and sometimes that payroll onboarding takes a bit longer than you anticipate.  Plan on 60 days to be safe. You want to ensure that all your quarterly taxes are done correctly and in the correct quarters.   Depending on the size of your organization & location, we have a few companies that we recommend.  Feel free to reach out to us HERE

Job Description

This is a specific description of each job AND ensures that you are setting clear expectations.  These also protect you from many legal hurdles.   

Ideal Employee Characteristics

Your job is the perfect solution for individuals who are not fully utilizing their skillset and amazing personality in their current role.  They are currently disengaged and not in a culture where they can tHRive.  Cue the music.  This is where Ideal Employee Characteristics come in.  You are their answer and when they read about these characteristics in a FaceBook post or advertisement on Indeed they say “this is me!  When can I start?” That my friends is what outlines the culture and solves their problem. And guess what? This also solves yours!   

Offer Letter

This is a personal invitation to come to work with you in a specific job role.  The office letter outlines the position and rules of engagement to be part of the organization. 

Employee Handbook

Your handbook sets the stage for what is expected inside of your organization.  This should comply with all state and federal laws.  

Orientation Plan

The orientation is to increase a new employee’s comfort with the organization and new position.  Specifically, this is reviewing the rules and expectations and is a system that is done over and over for new staff.  Think general.   

New Hire Paperwork

This is the required legal and organizational paperwork to ensure that you as an organization can pay them, direct deposit their paycheck, have someone to call if there is an emergency, ensure that they understand the position and your specific values as an organization.  We also recommend that you align the organizational goals with the employee’s personal goals right away through a goals and expectations exercise that you review with the employee monthly for the first year.  This then becomes a part of the onboarding program.   

Onboarding Plan

The onboarding plan provides employees with a mentor (with the first employee- this mentor will be you!) and the opportunity to acquire the necessary organizational knowledge and behaviors to be effective inside the organization.  This allows them to gain the trust and confidence of themselves and their co-workers to intertwine into the fabric of the organization.  This is total integration into your culture and is customized to the employee over the first year.   

Bringing it all Together

Are you still with us or have you just hit the overwhelm button?  Take a deep breath.  We have an easy button!  All of this is laid out in our HR Foundations Program through either a DIY with templates or a plan where we will do it with you!   AND you can link to specific articles on each of these topics.  Let us know your thoughts and what you need to overcome the scary hump of hiring your first employee.