Shake Logo

Employee Handbooks: Put Your Rules in Writing

Whitney O’Sullivan

Employee Handbooks: Put Your Rules in Writing

You’re a one-person shop and doing well — so well that it’s finally time to hire some help. With employees come a lot of questions — for both you and them. Putting together an employee handbook can help everyone understand company policies, and aids you in enforcement by setting clear expectations.

When putting together an employee handbook, you need to research the law. Chances are your state (or city) has rules and regulations regarding minimum wage, meal breaks, and benefits, depending on company size. Different states allow for work by minors at different ages, and have varying requirements for sick leave. Some states allow non-compete agreements, but not all.

While some policies are dictated by law, many more are not. The employee handbook acts as a guide and easy resource for answers. While not exhaustive, below are examples of policies you may want to address in yours.

Type of Employment

While an offer letter might indicate what type of employment is offered, at-will or otherwise, it is also a good idea to repeat and clearly define the terms in the handbook. While there are certain anti-discriminatory reasons a person can never be fired, you will want to make clear whether employees are at-will or not. If they are not at-will employees, go one step further and clearly state what constitutes cause for firing.


People work to get paid. When can your employees expect to receive a paycheck? Once a month? Every Friday? And how will you pay your employees — direct deposit? A check mailed to their home? Take the confusion out of payroll and set a reliable payment schedule.


If your business is only open M-F, 9-5, then scheduling may be less of a concern for you. If not, you need to decide how and when employees will learn of their required work hours. Will the employee have any say in the days and times? Will seniority be a factor? Will you publish a schedule a month in advance? Only on Friday for the following week? What is your plan?


One perk of having a full-time job is often the vacation time. But how much vacation do you want to offer your employees? A week? A month? None at all? Will part-time employees be eligible for vacation pay? Will vacation time be given upfront at the beginning of each year, or will employees slowly accrue it based upon hours worked?

Internal Reporting Procedures

Depending on the size of your company, you may need to create internal procedures for reporting misconduct — work or interpersonal. For example, if a lower-level employee is concerned that accounting procedures may violate the law, to whom should he report it? His direct supervisor who assigned him the task? Someone higher? What if he is getting harassed by a colleague? Having a structure and assuring employees that they have a known remedy for uncomfortable behavior can put everyone at ease. It can also help curb such behavior, since bad actors will know that there is an established chain of command.

Workplace Standards

Does your office have a dress code? Do you have clock-in/out procedures? Are employees allowed to use personal electronic devices during work hours? Check personal email from company devices? Receive packages on the premise? The list goes on and on.

Depending on your industry, this section will include different expectations. Highly confidential industries often block personal email access on company devices to protect client information. Service industry companies which can only function when employees are present may need strict in/out policies. Consider what is important to you and the way you conduct business.


While you have a lot of room to create (and update) company policies, sticking to the ones you choose is important. It’s important not only for legal reasons; if you lay out an exclusive list of reasons for termination and then fire based upon other factors, you may leave yourself open to a lawsuit, but also for smoothly running your company. If you set expectations, your employees will assume you are going to follow through. If you do not, you may cause confusion, frustration, and unnecessary negativity. A good employment law attorney can help you decide what policies you need to include and what is best for your specific organization.