Essential Provisions in Employee Handbooks

Essential Provisions in Employee Handbooks


An employee handbook is a basic and efficient tool in the presentation and enforcement of an employer’s workplace rules. A well-written handbook can save an employer considerable effort in training and educating an employee as pertains to workplace regulations and work operations.

It is essential that an employee handbook be distinguished from an employment contract. The handbook should include an introduction which states clearly that the book is not an employee contract and explains the at-will nature of the employment relationship (in which either the employer or the employee may terminate the employment at any time for any lawful reason). It should also include a form stating acknowledgement and understanding of the introduction and content of the handbook, which should be signed, dated, and returned to the employer at the time of hire. It is wise for the employer to include a notice of the right to revise or rescind the handbook at any time.

There are a few basic policy explanations which every employee handbook should contain. They are:

  • a harassment and discrimination policy (including investigation regulations)
  • an equal opportunity employment policy
  • vacation and sick-leave policies
  • an overtime authorization policy
  • a policy for reporting workplace injuries
  • an absenteeism policy

Employers may also include other policies, including: drugs and alcohol; smoking; voicemail, email, computer, and social media; confidentiality and non-competition; dispute resolution; and employee benefits.

It is advisable that employers refrain from including any policies in the handbook which may create liability if not honored. It is typically because of a promise made by the employer in a handbook not being honored that legal issues will arise from the institution of employee handbooks. Such commitments may, under Minnesota law, constitute contracts which will create liability for the employer in the event of a breach. It is thus supremely important that an employee handbook be well-written and prepared with all of the care that goes into the drafting of a contract.