The Importance of an Employment Handbook

By Amy Polefrone, MPA, SPHR

An employment handbook allows you to establish sound, consistent expectations for the employees in your business while ensuring compliance with state and federal employment law. Employment handbooks are a business necessity for small-business owners and can help protect you from liability and wrongful employment actions—which can cost you thousands of dollars!

Employment handbooks allow you to

  • Clarify your expectations for professional conduct and performance with your employees;
  • Train your employees in your expectations of their conduct and performance;
  • Maintain accountability with employees who act inappropriately in your company;
  • Ensure compliance with federal and state employment laws and with insurance and professional liability requirements.

Clarify expectations. Employment handbooks provide a solid foundation for you to clarify what conduct and performance you expect from your employees. It’s been said, “If it ain’t written down, it ain’t clarified.” That is so true in the employment world. Do not ASSUME that employees know how you expect them to dress, or what the hours of operation are, or that you do not want them spending four hours a day on Facebook! You need to spell it out in an employment handbook.

Train your employees. Train your employees on the employment handbook. Review it with them.  Make sure they read the handbook. It is not enough to put it in front of them, tell them to read it, and then expect magical compliance (even if they have signed it, saying they have read it!). Truly, I encourage my clients to review the handbook with employees—especially key provisions such as sexual harassment, Internet usage, workplace policies, etc. It may seem like it’s a waste of time—but this is time you are investing in clarifying and training them in YOUR expectations. Make sure you know that they know what you expect.

Maintain accountability. Employees will do great things working for you—and annoyingly frustrating things working for you. When the good and bad things happen, you need to maintain accountability. An employment handbook provides you with the foundation to maintain accountability with employees, especially when there is a conduct problem! Let’s say Susie shows up to work wearing business casual clothes on Tuesday. But your handbook specifies that business casual is only for Fridays—and you are left wondering how to enforce your dress code. If you have an employment handbook that spells out the dress code and its provisions, and you have reviewed that with her in advance, you should have no problem or liability in sending her home to change clothes to be in compliance with YOUR expectations. This is part of maintaining accountability.

Ensure compliance with federal and state laws. Handbooks should be written in consultation with human resources consultants and/or employment attorneys. You should AVOID using an employment handbook from another company—particularly a handbook from a friend in another state. State employment laws vary widely, so you want to ensure that the handbook is customized to the state and locale in which you do business. Maryland in particular has very specific provisions for employment laws (which change frequently) and regulations with which you want to ensure your company is in compliance.

In summary, employment handbooks allow you to be PRO-ACTIVE in communicating a professional image to your employees about dress code, customer service, hours of operation, time schedules, time-off procedures, computers and social media usage, and many more issues in employment! By having an employment handbook, you provide a consistent, uniform set of guidelines that allows you to manage the human resource issues in your business effectively and efficiently. You clarify, up front, your expectations with your employees, so that an employee can’t claim, “Gee, I never heard that before!” It is clarified, because an employee should sign and acknowledge receipt and reading of the handbook (this signed receipt goes in the employment file).

© 2010, Amy Polefrone

Amy Polefrone, MPA, SPHR

HR Strategy Group, LLC


Amy Polefrone, MPA, SPHR, is an experienced human resources consultant with more than 20 years of experience. Her company, HR Strategy Group, LLC helps small-business owners with tough employment issues, including employment handbooks, hiring and firing situations, and HR audits.

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