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Human Resources Policy

How to create an employee handbook and onboarding process.
When you join a company, there's a lot to learn…not just about your job and the company culture but about the company’s policies and operating procedures. A company’s operating manual or employee handbook is a document given to an employee during his or her onboarding period that captures the company’s policies and procedures. It typically outlines the policies, procedures, working conditions, and behavioral expectations that guide employee actions in a particular workplace. A company should put together an employee handbook around the time it has 5 employees.
An employee handbook is not a substitute for . The handbook is your go-to manual for all company policies that you can always reference. Onboarding is something that occurs with a more personal touch. The two work in tandem and both are essential to long-term team happiness and success.
One of our portfolio companies, , has done much of the work for you. They’ve created a “How To” Guide for creating an Employee Handbook here: . offers a customizable that differs from state to state depending on employment laws. The National Federation of Independent Business also offers .

Basic guidelines for writing an employee handbook

Write with a casual voice.
It doesn’t have to be called an “Employee Handbook”. Feel free to call it something that speaks more to your culture or values. Examples include: “The Way Things Work Here” or “How to Get Stuff Done at Company X.”
Be consistent when tying values back to actual practices.
Provide an outlet for feedback and questions.
Don’t give out the handbook until the employee’s first day. There are usually legal docs that need to be signed and returned to HR.

Must-haves in an employee handbook

At-will employment
EEO (Equal Employment Opportunity) statement
Confidentiality Agreement
General company information
Contact info
Standard of Conduct
Harassment policies
Dress code, if applicable
Office Environment
Office hours
Use of company equipment
WFH (Work From Home Policy)
Workplace Safety
Earthquake and fire instructions
What to do if there is a fire drill
Office Communications
Email vs. SMS vs. instant messenger vs. Slack? Make sure employees know what works in a new office environment. Don’t make them guess.
Compensation and Performance Reviews
Payroll schedule
Performance review process and schedule
Bonus policy
Expense reporting
Benefits (We’ve created a whole guide on benefits (to come). There’s a lot to navigate.)
Leaving the Company
The exit process
Final paycheck
Exit interview
Health insurance options, including COBRA
Company Vision/Company Story
Not a policy but a reason why you are here
A brief summary of the company’s history
Company’s mission statement
At-will employment statement to be signed by employee
What does this mean? The employer can fire an employee without any cause for any reason.
Why is it important? Legal protection for a company in the event a disgruntled employee takes legal action post termination.
What language should we use? Your employment with (Company Name) is and either party can terminate the employment relationship at any time with or without cause and with or without notice.

Equal Employment Opportunity

What does this mean? An employer who agrees not to discriminate against any employee or job applicant because of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, physical or mental disability, or age. All of these categories listed are federally protected classes. As a company, you may choose to add protected categories, such as sexual orientation or gender identification.
Why is it important? Equal employment opportunity makes it possible for employees to perform their job duties in a company free from harassment and discrimination.
What language should we use? Company X is committed to equal employment opportunity and employs all qualified persons without regard to race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, handicap, or any other classification protected by the federal, state or local laws. If you feel you have not been treated in accordance with this policy, you should contact [insert name of HR person or legal contact]. The Company assures all employees that no individual filing a complaint will be discriminated against as a result of their complaint.

Confidentiality Agreement

What does this mean? A confidentiality agreement or non disclosure agreement (NDA) is a contract between 2 or more parties where the subject of the agreement is to maintain information in secrecy.
Why it is important? Employees often handle data that is confidential. This agreement explains how the data is mean to be handled.
What language should we use? Here is a
to a sample confidentiality agreement.

Sexual and other unlawful harassment

There are different types of harassment outlined in the (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission).
Sexual harassment
We recommend that a clear sexual harassment policy be incorporated into your employment handbook. This is even more true In light of the numerous sexual harassments allegations that have recently surfaced in Silicon Valley. Gunderson Dettmer, a global law firm working with high growth tech firms, has put together a policy that we recommend incorporating into your handbook:
If your company does not have an internal HR person, it is important that employees know where to go to report incidents. Some companies offer someone from their investor community or board with a human resources background as a point person to handle these issues. What’s important is that every employee knows they have a safe, trusted, confidential way to report any issue without fear of retaliation. Founders should think about this as soon as they start hiring. Most likely, an HR person won’t be hired until the company is approximately 30 people or more. Once you have identified the point person, make sure this person has a direct line to the company’s outside counsel.
Unlawful harassment
Harassment is considered unlawful where: 1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or 2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.

Dress Code

Depending on the nature of your company’s different role(s) and the culture of your company, you may not need to have a dress code outlined in your employee handbook. Appropriate dress and grooming are often tied to professionalism which is why many companies have this type of system.
What does a “dress code” mean? A dress code policy outlines how an employer expects its employees to dress at work.
Why is it important...Why do we need a dress code? Several reasons. 1) Some dress and grooming policies may violate the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and may also violate individual state laws. Make sure you have something in writing that is compliant. 2) Health and safety issues. For example: Are closed toed shoes necessary in certain environments? Do you need your hair pulled back for health reasons? 3) If you are in a client facing role vs. and internal facing role, the dress expectations may be different.
What language should we include? Here is a for a Dress Code/Grooming policy.

Pay periods

People want to know when they are getting paid and who to contact if something doesn’t look right in their paycheck. This information should be clearly stated in the handbook and instructions regarding direct deposit should be provided during onboarding. We recommend for making payroll easy for both the employer and employee.

Exempt vs. Non Exempt…. Am I eligible for overtime?

In smaller companies, most of your employees will be exempt. How do I know if I am exempt? If you have an annual salary, chances are, you are exempt. No overtime.
Exempt positions are excluded from minimum wage, overtime regulations, and other rights and protections afforded nonexempt workers. Employers must pay a salary rather than an hourly wage for a position for it be exempt.
Non-exempt employee are entitled to overtime due to the FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act) for any hours worked over 40 hours. Employees are paid one-and-a-half times their regular rate of pay for time worked over 40 hours (often capped at a certain number of hours depending on the company). *If you are interviewing someone and not sure if they are an hourly or salaried employee, make sure you find out prior to the interview. They make have questions about overtime and you should have your answer straight.

Payroll Deductions

The difference between your monthly salary and the money reflected on your paycheck can be explained by These deductions are a combination of federal and state taxes, medical insurance, 401K benefits (if applicable).

Drug and Alcohol Use

You don’t want people to be impaired at work. You want people to do their best work and alcohol will impair performance. Having a clear policy will protect your company from safety liabilities. A typical policy specifies no drugs or alcohol at work. If there is alcohol served at a company sponsored event, behave like an adult. For information on how to set up drug testing and writing a drug and alcohol policy please see the .

Work From Home Policy

Do you want to let people work from home? If the answer is “yes” and you are doing it already, you just put a policy in place. There are some jobs that require you to be in the office (you are managing a team who needs supervision, you are running numerous meetings throughout the day). You should know if you need to be in the office.
What should the policy look like? We like one which puts the responsibility on the employee. If you’d prefer something more traditional, this from Workable may fit your needs.
If you are WFH, there are 3 basic rules:
Get your stuff done. Enough said.
Be available. (This doesn’t mean be available with background noise. This means be available in a professional and quiet setting).
Over communicate. Make sure your peers and directs know where you are so there is no confusion. Don’t make people chase you down.

Office Hours

In some offices, it is obvious what time you need to be in the office and what time is appropriate to leave. When the lines are gray, it is best to talk to your manager directly. Some jobs require you to be at your desk early (receptionist, west coast sales, etc) and others may depend on your team and its function. Some engineering teams tend to work later into the evening and have remote teams with corresponding hours. The good news is modern technology keeps us connected 24/7. Unfortunately that is the bad news, too. Find out what your boss and your team expect of you and do what works best within your company. You may need to adjust your schedule so be flexible.

Use of Office Equipment Agreement

What is this? An agreement between employee and company outlining the expectation for taking care of equipment owned by the company and used by the employee (desktop, laptop, phone, and any accessories). This include equipment used for home use and defines the return policy.
Why is this important? Employees need to understand procedures for care including security measures of any equipment used at work or home.
What language should we include? Here is a
to the SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management Site) which provides a basic sample agreement.

Pet Policy

Thinking about becoming a pet friendly office? Pets in the office are known to reduce stress and boost morale. Here is a sample if you are thinking about letting people bring animals to work.
You should have a policy because the health and safety of your employees should be the highest priority. There may be people in the office who are allergic, scared of dogs/pets, or your building might not allow pets. If your pet is a distraction to you, your coworkers, or clients, you should think twice about having one in the office.
Other things to consider:
Designate an area a “no pet zone” for people who are not “pet people.”
Some companies have a “pet committee” to address issues that come up with pets and send a representative to deal with the pet owner.
The pet should be fairly mellow and quiet. Loud barking and squealing is not ok.
The pet must be good with other pets and other people. If Fido is only ok with you and you go to a meeting, this can become a problem for those around you.

Still need more help with HR policies?

Here are a few HR Consultants that work with startups:

Updated 4.30.24

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