The small business handbook - 2024 version

Employee handbooks for small business

imageAvailable as free PDF or Word Doc download
imageEstablish clear, up-to-date policies including state and city-specific policies for employees
imageProtect your company and your employees

Key takeaways:

  • Every small business needs an employee handbook

    An often overlooked, yet crucial asset for businesses, is the employee handbook. It holds immense value for expanding enterprises, which makes it a valuable resource. By establishing your company's standards and outlining the employee-employer dynamics, an exceptional handbook brings clarity. It plays a pivotal role in promoting uniformity, equity, and adherence to legal requirements. Additionally, it aids in establishing well-defined employee expectations and equips them with vital knowledge to excel in their respective roles.

  • Your handbook policies should be tailored to your business

    When it comes to small business handbooks, one size does not fit all. You will want to include or exclude policies based on the real-world issues you are up against A restaurant should have a very different handbook from a software company.

  • Get the resources you need to build a great handbook

    For more information on the required policies and general content for your employee handbook, visit our Employee Handbook Template and Employee Handbook Examples pages.

Small business handbook basics

Reasons an employee handbook is essential for a small business

Simplify your responsibilities

Owning and operating a small business entails significant responsibilities, especially when owners are juggling multiple roles such as marketing, sales, and operations. Given the demanding nature of these tasks, HR responsibilities, including creating and implementing an employee handbook, often take a backseat. Although developing an outstanding employee handbook may not be a top priority, it is advisable to elevate its importance. Why? Because it simplifies your life. By providing employees with a comprehensive resource that outlines expectations, company culture, and operational procedures, much of the accountability for their actions is shifted to the employee, lightening the burden on the business owner.

Enhance company trust

An employee handbook that is implemented with care and consideration serves as a positive indication of a thriving company. Leading organizations frequently utilize their employee handbooks as recruitment tools, sharing them with potential candidates. Regardless of how you decide to utilize your handbook, it holds significant value as an essential asset in fostering trust between the business and its employees. It brings clarity to expectations and serves as a guide, clearly defining acceptable and unacceptable boundaries.

Alignment reduces risk

An employee handbook offers protection to both employees and employers by providing clear guidelines and standards for the company. In the unlikely event of litigation or an employee lawsuit, the handbook serves as a reference for the company's policies. Clearly communicated rules and documented procedures ensure alignment between both parties. Furthermore, having well-documented policies simplifies the process of terminating an employee if necessary. In the event of a lawsuit, a written policy can serve as a valuable point of reference alongside other necessary documentation. Lawsuits, particularly for small businesses, are challenging, so it is crucial to maintain a clear, updated, and well-established handbook that provides a framework for the employer and their teams to navigate legal matters effectively.


The importance of differentiation in your small business handbook

While the general guidelines for an employee handbook remain the same for all small business handbooks, there are a few differentiations that must be kept in mind. Every small business is different, and so there are distinctive approaches that can be taken in order to best cater the handbook to your business's employees.

For detailed federal, state and local policies, please see our employee handbook template.

What goes in your handbook

Restaurant Employee Handbook

In a restaurant, ensuring the well-being of both customers and employees is essential. When this is achieved, you can facilitate a smooth workflow, minimize errors, and enhance overall customer satisfaction. By highlighting the following policies, your restaurant can create a safe, pleasant, and well-organized environment for everyone involved.

  • Safety and Hygiene:
  • It is essential for a restaurant to maintain good hygiene practices in order to stay out of hot water with health and safety checks, as well as with customer complaints.

  • Employee Code of Conduct:
  • This includes dress code, cell phone usage, requests off, etc. A restaurant must place particular emphasis on conduct due to the close relationship it has with all customers.

  • Systems and Procedures:
  • These may include set-up and closing routines, as well as other standard procedures covered in training. Having all procedures covered in your employee handbook will both speed-up training and bring new employees clarity.

Daycare Employee Handbook

The policies you cover in a Daycare Employee Handbook serve as the foundation for providing a safe and nourishing environment for children. It is important to ensure that employees remain respectful and professional, as well as consistent, when working with young children. By upholding the following policies, your daycare company can create a developmentally enriching environment that parents can trust and children can thrive in.

  • Employee Code of Conduct:
  • When working with young children, there are some behaviors that are unacceptable in this setting. They should be clearly highlighted so that all employees are aware of what the proper conduct is.

  • Attendance Policies:
  • Consistency is key for families and children that rely on your services. Explain to employees the importance of maintaining consistent attendance, and what the time-off policy is for when they need to utilize it.

  • Confidentiality Procedures:
  • Working with young children and their families is a sensitive job, and the information they receive about their clients' lives should be considered confidential.

  • Mandated Child Abuse/Neglect Rules and Policies:
  • Any employee that suspects a child might suffering from abuse or neglect is required by law to report it immediately.

Medical Office Employee Handbook

In a medical office, it is important to ensure the highest standard of patient care, privacy and operational efficiency. To do this, highlighting policies that protect sensitive patient data and maintain compliance with relevant laws and regulations is key. Well-structured policies in your medical office employee handbook will promote patient safety, privacy, and effective healthcare delivery, fostering trust between healthcare providers and patients.

  • Liability and Privacy Protection:
  • By laying out essential procedures, guidelines for specific situations, and employee rights, legal problems can be avoided.

  • HIPAA:
  • This policy is essential for medical office employees to be aware of as it protects sensitive patient information from being disclosed without the patient’s consent.

  • Standards of conduct:
  • This can include dress code, ethics, hygiene, and other responsibilities employees of a medical office would be expected to understand and follow.

Lawn Care and Landscaping Employee Handbook

In a lawn care or landscaping handbook, it is important to include policies that establish guidelines and ensure the efficient operation of the company. Policies regarding safety protocols and substance abuse will help protect both employees and customers, fostering a secure working environment. Additionally, clear policies on scheduling, customer interactions, and service standards enhance customer satisfaction and trust.

  • Customer Service Policies
  • As a company that works on a client-to-client basis, there will be problems that arise. This section of your handbook will lay out general procedures for handling certain situations.

  • Safety Policies:
  • Rules about everything from operating machinery to handling chemicals must be clearly defined due to the variety of tools that must be used by employees to care for clients.

  • Systems and Procedures:
  • These may include set-up and closing routines, as well as other standard procedures covered in training. Having all procedures covered in your employee handbook will both speed-up training and bring new employees clarity.

  • Substance Abuse Policy:
  • While this is key for all types of companies, it is especially important for a business that spends a lot of time on the road. A lawn care employee may be driving a company truck, and therefore preventing substance abuse must be one of the highest priorities.

Church or Non-Profit Employee Handbook

It is important to ensure that your church or religious non-profit employee handbook highlights policies that explain the various differences employees may encounter at work due to the religious purpose of the company. By clearly laying out the EEOC exception, religious mission statement, and religious codes of conduct, employees can have all the tools necessary to uphold company standards. This will also provide your company with a solid foundation for effective ministry and the nurturing of a strong community.

  • Notes about EEOC:
  • Churches, and religious organizations are required to comply with all federal, state, and local laws. One nuance around equal employment opportunity language is that religious organizations may, in some cases, hire only candidates that share their same faith. According to, “an employer whose purpose and character is primarily religious is permitted to lean towards hiring persons of the same religion.”

  • Organizational Mission:
  • Although every company needs a mission statement, a religious organization should specifically emphasize the ministry’s mission statement and purpose.

  • Code of Conduct:
  • This is similar to an employee code of conduct, but instead places emphasis on specific religious or organizational rules and principles that must be upheld by all employees.

Trucking Company Employee Handbook

The policies you choose to highlight in your trucking company employee handbook will establish safe and efficient operations. With the complex nature of the trucking industry, policies related to road safety, driver qualifications, cargo transportation, and incident protocols are of utmost importance. By including the following policies, you will build a framework for safe operations, customer satisfaction, and the overall success of your business.

  • Driver Expectations and Road Safety:
  • It is essential that employees of a trucking company are aware of what is expected of them while driving.

  • Substance Abuse Policy:
  • All employees must be monitored to ensure that they are physically able to drive without putting themselves or others in danger.

  • Driver Qualifications:
  • All employees must display a valid driver's license and any necessary medical certificates in order to prove they are qualified to drive.

  • Cargo Transportation Practices and Procedures:
  • This should include everything from how to properly store cargo to safe loading/unloading practices.

  • Roadside Inspections:
  • This section should properly equip the employee with what to expect from an inspection on the road, as well as the proper credentials they will need to present to the inspector.

  • Breakdown/Incident Procedures:
  • Employees must be aware of the potential dangers that can arise while on the road, and how to handle them.

Auto Repair Company Employee Handbook

Companies focused on auto repair or similar businesses should emphasize workplace safety, customer service, equipment rules and regulations, repair techniques, and workers’ compensation. By including the following policies in your employee handbook, your auto repair company can ensure consistency, quality, customer satisfaction, and a strong reputation in the industry.

  • Workshop Safety Policies:
  • Due to the nature of the auto-repair shop work environment, safety is a top priority. Policies regarding workplace safety should be emphasized in the employee handbook.

  • Customer Service Policies:
  • While operating as a client-oriented company, it is inevitable that various challenges may arise. This section of your handbook aims to outline standard procedures for effectively addressing specific situations that may occur.

  • Workers' Compensation:
  • If an employee was to get injured, workers' compensation details must be clearly outlined in the employee handbook for a clear understanding.

  • Workplace Equipment Rules and Regulations:
  • Clear rules on how to properly use the equipment in the workplace are essential for safety and training purposes. This section should also include restrictions involving the aforementioned equipment, as well as cleaning techniques. If there are any repair techniques employees should be aware of, they should also be covered in this section.

Pro tips for creating a great employee handbook

  • Make your handbook easy to read and accessible to everyone
  • Distribute your handbook digitally ( provides live link sharing!)
  • Adjust any policies to reflect your company’s unique culture
  • Be sure to include state and city-specific policies. You need policies for every state where you have employees
  • Keep your federal, state, and local policies up to date, as they change frequently
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