An Employee Handbook is a resource that delineates company policies, procedures and expectations with the intent of avoiding potential conflict. Its purpose is to enable employees to understand what you expect of them and to know what they can expect from you. It is perhaps the most critical document for onboarding employees, and while it is not legally required to have one, it’s important for setting goals and protecting yourself against liability. This video provides a good overview.

Below is a list of essentials to include.

1. The Disclaimer

This states that the handbook is not a contract of employment. Without a disclaimer, a terminated employee could sue an employer for breach of contract.

2. Company Goals and Mission Statement

To help you succeed, your employees need to be onboard with the company’s mission. Clearly communicating your goals will give employees a sense of purpose and foster identification with your objectives.

3. Anti-Discrimination and Sexual Harassment Policies

Ensuring your work environment is one where employees feel emotionally safe and comfortable is vital. Declare your company’s zero tolerance for discriminatory and harassing behaviors, explicitly defining the various ways they can be manifested. Set forth methods of reporting complaints and designate a person to whom employees can bring their concerns.

4. Conduct Standards

Aside from standards regarding sexual harassment and social media, you may have other regulations that you would want your employees to adhere to. These rules could relate to issues such as dress code, ethics and workplace bullying.

5. Leave Policies

Delineate policies regulating all types of leave you intend to permit, including vacations, jury duty, sick leave and maternity leave. Specify how much advance notice employees must give in requesting approval for vacation time.

6. Compensation

Provide information about mandatory deductions for federal and state taxes in addition to voluntary deductions for benefits. Specify regulations regarding pay schedules, overtime pay and salary increases.

7. Employee Benefits

Describe benefit programs required by law and their eligibility requirements. Include your plans for optional benefits as well.

8. Conflict Resolution

If a structured system is in place for the resolution of grievances, employees will feel that the company cares about their well-being. Describe in detail the process they can follow when conflicts arise.

9. Disciplinary Policies

Since disciplinary procedures are needed to deter unproductive and inappropriate behavior, these actions should be unambiguously defined. While the consequences of such actions should be explained, the language used should be couched in such terms that employees know they will be treated fairly. Employees should be made aware that negative repercussions will follow misconduct, but you don’t want to instill undue fear in them.

10. Safety and Security

Delineate policies that address all the issues involved in creating a safe and secure work environment. Make sure you are in compliance with laws set forth by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

11. Non-Disclosure Agreements and Conflict of Interest Statements (Optional)

Neither of these are required by law, but they will safeguard your trade secrets and information you would not want to become public knowledge.

12. Workplace Policies

This is a broad category that encompasses a wide range of issues. Describe dress code policies, making sure they accommodate all religious beliefs, allow for racial differences and are gender neutral. As a safe working environment is one that is free from the use of drugs and alcohol, spell out your policies regarding the consumption, possession and testing of these substances. While smokers are protected from discrimination, you are entitled to restrict the practice to protect the health of other workers.

13. Technology Policies

An Internet Use Policy would have several components, such as banning illegal use and prohibiting visiting websites with questionable content. The area of social media should also be addressed, forbidding the posting of personal company information on sites like Twitter and Facebook. Proper cell phone etiquette should be encouraged, including turning the devices off during meetings and keeping their use to a minimum. The use of cameras should not be allowed to protect your company’s privacy.

When you structure your Employee Handbook, you can organize it into major categories, adding as many subcategories as you feel is necessary. Here is an example of a well-organized Table of Contents.

As handbooks should help set the stage for good employee-employer relationships, they should be composed with care. In addition to including all the essential categories, you should be mindful of your tone, choosing words that inspire trust rather than provoke hostility. Another consideration is to avoid making the book overly long, so employees will not feel overwhelmed and opt not to read it.