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.   

How to Write a Comprehensive Offer Letter

Do you love to receive personalized mail?  I know I do!  Especially handwritten ones that are written specifically for me.  Not only are they personal, but they also imply someone spent some time thinking about me and what I do for them.   

Offer letters are much like this. 

They are a personalized note to a new employee welcoming them to your company and notifying them of some of the agreements you have made.  The offer letter itself and the way it is delivered can also set a lasting impression on the new employee.   

So, what needs to be included in the offer letter?  Below are some key elements to make sure you include in the body of the letter. 


Start with a warm welcome to your company.  Personalize WHY you are excited for the new employee to be starting and have it tie to the organizational mission. 


This will include a start date, as well as the position the employee is being hired for.  You’ll want to refer to the job description and make sure you include a copy of this with the offer letter.  At this point, the employee should already have a good understanding of the job expectations because this would have been discussed during the interview. 


The new employee will need to be paid.  Outline if this is a full or part-time position, what the pay will be (hourly or salaried) and define the pay period. 


Will benefits be offered? Summarize benefits, vacation, paid time off, sick time, etc.  Refer to the employee handbook for any updates that happen after the initial hire.


Outline any conditions of the offer of employment, including background checks, drug screening, reference checks, etc.  


Depending on the rules of your state, clarify that the employment is considered “At Will.” 

You’ll wrap this all up with your signature on the letter, as well as a spot for the new employee to sign the offer letter and have them return it by a certain date.  Why not personalize it some more by adding a handwritten note on the bottom? 

In Conclusion

The elements outlined above not only create a one to one relationship with your new employee, but they also protect you in many employment law situations.  If you are looking for more insight on offer letters, you can view our short complimentary training on this topic HERE.  

Congratulations on hiring staff to scale your business and create an environment for every employee to tHRive! 

How to Write a Job Description for Your First Employee

You’re hiring your first employee.  That’s a big deal!  But now you have to define what the employee will actually be DOING. What are your expectations of the employee? And how do you combine these with being compliant?

The job description is a summary of the tasks, duties, functions, and responsibilities of a position that is a guide for job performance. It is also used in hiring, compensating and holding staff accountable. From a compliance perspective, the job description is key in protecting your organization from Ameican with Disability Act, Title VII discrimination and OSHA claims.

That is all great, right?   Yet, how do you write one? 

Below are the key areas you will need to keep in mind from both a legal and compliance perspective. It is important to note that each section supports each other. AND they all support the way in which you are paying your employees (either exempt from overtime in the form of a salary or non-exempt and on an hourly basis.)  

Job Title

What are you calling this position? 


This is the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) exempt or non-exempt status. This status is determined and supported by the essential functions, required education, experience, language, math and reasoning abilities which will be listed out in the job description.

Essential Duties

These are the required duties and responsibilities that an individual performs. This section correlates with every other section on the job description as it provides the expectations for what the employee will be held accountable for. 

When writing this section, ensure that each duty is written in the form of a SMARTY goal.  This goal is Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Reasonable, Time Based and describes Why this duty is important as aligned with the mission and vision of the organization.  

Legal Implications:  This section protects the organization from Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), FLSA, Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) or other discrimination cases by specifically naming the expectations of the position.  

Supervisory Responsibilities

Only include this section if it is relevant to the position.  This could be responsible for all individuals in a specific department OR in a functional area.   

Legal Implications:  This correlates with the classifications as the executive exemption is contingent on the number of employees supervised. 


List out any specific certifications or licenses that are required or preferred for the position that is essential to perform the position. If listed as required, the individual should already hold this certification or license.  If you are doing the training and are willing to train or waive a specific certification, then it should be listed as preferred.  Examples of this include: driver’s license, industry certification, teaching license, etc.  

Legal Implications: This protects the organization from EEO discrimination cases. Listing items here as required vs. preferred differentiates if a reasonable accommodation can be made for an individual not having this certification. This correlates with the essential functions. 

Education, Math, Language & Reasoning Abilities  

These sections set the minimum expectations needed in the position for the employee to satisfactorily perform the essential functions of the role.  We recommend that you use a specific structure when creating these to ensure consistency across all levels of your organization. 

Education:  9 levels of education ranging from “Less than high school diploma” to “Doctorate Degree” 

Language Ability: “Read and speak in two to three words sentences” to “Negotiate significant organizational contracts and present organizational data to board and community stakeholders in easy to understand language.” 

Legal Implications: Consistency across positions is key to ensure you can support why individuals are paid a specific amount.  This section backs up the salary ranges you place each position into and supports the essential functions listed above.  

Physical Demands

This section lays out all the physical requirements to do the job, such as standing, lifting, walking stopping, crawling, lifting, hearing, speaking, dexterity of fingers (typing), close or distance vision, peripheral vision, etc. 

For each physical demand category, it is recommended that you have 3 levels that define the amount of time required (less the 1/3, 1/3 – 2/3 or 2/3 + of the time).  The reason for the three levels is to ensure consistency between all your positions as well as to both simplify and provide clarity in what is needed. 

Legal Implications: This section is instrumental in determining a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act, return to work after FMLA, anti-discrimination based on if an employee cannot complete a specific essential function, etc.   

Work Environment 

Clarity is key to ensuring that employees are aware of the types of environment they may be exposed to.  It is recommended that this section is set up similarly to that of physical demands.  This section must lay out any specific working conditions such as an office environment, exposure to fumes, confined spaces, loud noises, heights, etc.  

Legal Implications: The environment that an employee works in may impact wages and is integral in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cases.   


Every job description should have an acknowledgment that the employee understands the essential function of the position and can do all functions with or without reasonable accommodation and agrees that this job description is NOT a contract of employment and does not negate their “at will” agreement.  


Upon hire into the position and on an annual basis (preferably at performance review time) ensure that each employee and their supervisor review the job descriptions for accuracy.  Both should sign and date the document.  Any changes should be noted and dated.  

Legal Implications: According to the Department of Labor, if it is not in writing, it did not happen.  Therefore, ensuring each employee AND supervisor sign their job descriptions on an annual basis will show that they have both reviewed it and the description is an accurate reflection of the employee’s position.   This supports both the employer is staying free of discrimination claims and creates an opportunity for conversation to promote a positive work environment.  

In Closing  

The key to job descriptions is to ensure that it is an accurate reflection of the job and that all of the requirements listed must be performed with or without reasonable accommodations.  The job description is one piece of a larger HR Foundation to set your organization up for success AND provide each employee with an opportunity and a choice to be fulfilled in the work that they do. 

This, of course, starts with your mission, vision, and values for the organization and rolls into every area.  The WHY of your organization must be aligned with your employee’s individual why’s.  Alignment!  If you are curious for more, check out our complimentary training on creating a job description HERE.  


Creating Employee Engagement through SMARTY Goals and Job Descriptions

Engagement. What is this? Webster defines it as a promise to meet or be present at a particular place and time. 

So, how many of your employees are engaged at work.  Truly engaged?  

According to Gallups 2018 poll, only 34% of the US workforce is engaged.  And of those engaged, their profitability is 21% higher than the rest of the workforce.  

What Creates an Engaged Employee? 

That is a loaded question that we will unpack with upcoming blog posts.  Yet, let’s start with the HR Foundation; specifically, as it relates to job descriptions.  This starts with clear expectations and accountability.   

How do staff know what it is that they are supposed to be doing up front?  They know this from the job description AND what we call Ideal Employee Characteristics. 

The first serves as a resource for staff and managers to ensure everyone knows what is required of that specific position.  The second serves as a marketing tool that defines the why behind the job and the exact type of person to be in that position.  Essentially, think of it as a marketing tool where you are reading it going “Wow, that is me and this solves all of my problems as an employee in my current situation.”  More on this in an upcoming post. 

Using SMARTY Goals in Job Descriptions

The job description has specific essential duties that are typically very vague and cannot be tied to specific goals.  Your goal is to ensure that they are accurate and meaningful.  When job descriptions are vague or inaccurate, issues develop. These issues can be found in the recruiting process, performance evaluation and when needing to discipline and/or terminate an employee. 

We chose to fix this issue by creating all of our job descriptions using SMARTY goals.   

  • Strategic 
  • Measurable 
  • Actionable 
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound
  • WhY

Yes, this does take a bit more time to write and may need to be updated as processes and procedures change in your organization.  Yet, with SMARTY goals you are tying the job descriptions to the culture of your organization through the WHY and you are being very specific on what the expectations are so that your staff can hold each other accountable driving a culture of excellence.   

Let’s Look at a Couple Examples 

Recycling and Reclamation Workers 

  • Essential function:  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.  

Construction Carpenters 

  • Essential function:  Install structures or fixtures, such as windows, frames, floorings, trim, or hardware, using carpenters’ hand or power tools. 
  • SMARTY essential function:  Install structures or fixtures, such as windows, frames, floorings, trim, or hardware to 99% accuracy within the specified timeframe outlined in each bid sheet using carpenters’ hand or power tools to delight clients in fulfilling the purpose and inspiration of the building aesthetically and functionally.  

Accounting Clerk 

  • Essential function:  Operate computers programmed with accounting software to record, store, and analyze information.
  • SMARTY essential function:  Complete accounting tasks using QuickBooks software with 99% accuracy in data entry performing X amount of entries per hour to provide accurate and up to date information to internal stakeholders ensuring cost-effective operations that fulfill our mission of xyz…. 


The key to any goal is first writing it and second to ensure that you are reviewing it on a specified timeframe and tracking your results.  For us, we know that if our goals AND our actions are not in our calendar, they do not happen.

So, do you love what you are learning?  Great!  Put some time in your calendar right now to review ONE current job description and transform it into a SMARTY job description.   Looking for support?  Check out our HR foundation programs.  

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.