The small business handbook - 2023 version

Employee handbooks for small business

imageAvailable as PDF or Word Doc download
image Establish clear, up-to-date policies including state and city-specific policies, no matter where your employees live.
imageProtect your company and your employees.
Small business handbook basics

What every small business needs in their handbook

Include your company-specific policies, guidelines, and operations

Providing clear guidance for your new hires and the current team helps everybody get aligned on the rules and company norms. This info is crucial for setting expectations and creating a culture that’s about getting work done.

Federal, state, and local policies

In 2023, there is a lot of complexity around which federal, state, and local policies apply to your team (based on where they’re located). A good handbook helps companies know with certainty how paid leave should be distributed, which FMLA rules apply, and how school involvement leave works (among a lot of other things!). The best way for teams to navigate this complexity is to have an authoritative document…and thus the employee handbook was born.

Your company's core values and culture

Every company has a unique culture. It’s largely set at the top (at the owner level). And it affects how the company operates in very real ways. Great company culture empowers teams and poor company culture inhibits creativity, empathy, and motivation. You’ve built a great company. Let that culture shine. Talk about the values you care most about in your handbook.

Policies that keep everybody aligned on the basics, like non-discrimination and anti-harassment policies

A company is a workplace but it's also a community of individuals working towards a common goal. Your employees should feel safe and protected knowing that they’ll be in an atmosphere that treats them fairly. Besides being good for business, the required policies around non-discrimination and anti-harassment are a must.


What you’re really trying to communicate

  • Company policies
  • Mission statement
  • Company culture
  • Employer benefits
  • Employment at will language
  • Sate and city specific policies
  • Required langauge (EEOC, harassment, discrimination)

What goes in your handbook

Tell me again why my small business needs a handbook?

  1. A great handbook makes running your business easier
  2. Running a small business comes with a lot of responsibility, especially when owners are frequently wearing multiple hats (marketing, sales, operations, and more). For most small business owners, HR tasks (like building and implementing an employee handbook) probably take a back seat to the daily demands of running the company. Even though rolling out a great employee handbook for your company might be low on your priority list, you should probably move it closer to the top. Why? Because it will make your life easier. When employees have a definitive guide on expectations, culture, and the mechanics of how the business operates, much of the responsibility for their actions is transferred to the employee

  3. Everyting starts with trust
  4. As a small business owner, a thoughtfully implemented employee handbook signals a healthy company. The best companies often use their employee handbook as a recruiting tool and share it with prospective candidates. However you choose to use your handbook, it can be a vital asset that helps establish trust between the business and the employee. It clarifies expectations and provides a guide for what’s in and out of bounds.

  5. Protect your company. Protect your team.
  6. An employee handbook offers a measure of protection to not only the employee but the employer. In the (hopefully unlikely) event of litigation or employee lawsuit, having an employee handbook provides what the company’s standards are. When an employee receives clearly articulated rules and documented procedures, it keeps both parties aligned. If an employee needs to be dismissed, having documented policies makes navigating this easier. And if a lawsuit arises, while you’ll still need all your normal documentation, being able to refer to a written policy can help. Lawsuits are never easy, especially for small businesses, so making sure that your handbook is clear, updated, and well-established provides a framework for the employer (and their teams) to stay on the right side of legal issues.

Creating an editable handbook

How to create your new small business handbook

  • Get an up-to-date handbook
  • Edit online or download Word Doc
  • Includes essential policies
  • EEOC, harassment and discrimination policies
  • Customizable optional policies

Let's build this thing!

What's included with the free small business handbook builder

Creating a new handbook only takes a few minutes. And it’s easy. You can get started by answering a few interactive questions about your company. A few examples:

  • How many employees do you have?
  • Do you have employees in multiple states?
  • Do you have a probationary period for new employees?
  • Do you offer paid holidays?
  • What is your payroll schedule?
Create free handbook

Small Business Company culture

Communicating your culture

Ask the hard questions

Arguably, company culture matters more in a small business than in larger companies. With smaller teams, the impact of a great culture is often more apparent than in larger organizations. Since culture is primarily set at the top, here are a few key questions to ask of your leadership team:

  • Are we open and transparent about how things work at our company?
  • Do employees know what’s expected of them?
  • Do we value our employee's feedback?
  • Are we doing our best to demonstrate that our employees are valued in tangible ways?
  • Do we have clearly articulated company values?

Navigating work-life balance

An great employee handbook sets the tone for the company. It should communicate to employees that they are valued. A big part of this is demonstrating respect for employees' life outside of work. When leaders are open about their own work-life balance it can go a long way toward building transparency. When leaders show genuine empathy about the demands of navigating work and family life, it helps builds trust. The key is being clear and honest about expectations while understanding that employees have responsibilities at home.

Am I happy working here?

In multiple surveys and analyses of employee feedback, majorities of employees report that they care as much about the culture of the company they work for as the salary they are being paid. Company culture is frequently undervalued within small companies. Reducing churn and increasing recruiting often centers around one question that employees think about regularly: “Am I happy working here?”.

Understand your culture and be clear about it

Communicating your company's culture is the first step in aligning with them. Alignment is not automatic and not every culture is a good fit for every employee. Being honest about your culture up front (even at the interview stage) is important. Research shows that when searching for a job, 77% of people who were polled said they would consider a company’s culture and work atmosphere before even applying for the role.

Handbook Section List

An outline of the content you will want in your handbook

Here’s a detailed list of content you should consider. Many of these are included in our free employee handbook template.

Section 1 - Company Introduction
Welcome Statement
Mission Statement
About this Handbook
Equal Employment Opportunity
Open Door Policy
Section 2 - Employment Policies
Employee Categories
Performance Reviews
Introductory Period
Discipline Policies
Section 3 - Time Away From Work and Other Benefits
Benefits Overview
Jury Duty
Voting Leave
Military Leave
Family Medical Leave Act
Leave Vacation Benefits
Sick Days
Insurance Benefits
Workers' Compensation
Section 4 - On the Job Practices and Policies
Employment Records
Working Schedule
Lactation Breaks
Direct Deposit
Company Vehicles
Property Policy

Section 5 - Standards of Conduct
Non-Harassment Policy
Non-Discrimination Policy
Sexual Harassment
Workplace Violence
Employee Conduct and Work Rules
Use of Communication and Computer Systems
Punctuality and Attendance
Personal and Company Owned Communication Devices
Personal Visitors and Telephone Calls
Confidential Company Information
No Solicitation / No Distribution
Conflict of Interest and Business Ethics
Equipment and Property Including Intellectual Property
Health and Safety
Hiring Relatives
Business Expense Reimbursement
Recording Device Policy
Social Media Policy
Employee Dress Section 6 - Acknowledgements
General Handbook Acknowledgment
Receipt of Non-Harassment Policy
Receipt of Sexual Harassment Policy

Free Employee handbook template (Word and PDF)

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