Easy Checklist for a Basic Employee Handbook

An employee handbook is an invaluable tool for employers. It helps to define corporate culture, foster a sense of belonging, outline company policies and protect against liability. The reality, however, is many small to medium size businesses don’t have the time or expertise to develop something like that. That’s when you focus on a basic handbook to establish expectations, answer questions and protect against legal issues. Here’s a checklist covering the minimum requirements that should be included.

At-will employment policy

The employee guidebook is not an employment contract. Explain that employment between the employer and the employee is “at-will” and can be terminated at any time by either party.

Anti-discrimination policies

Regardless of what state you do business in or how many employees you have, all employers are required to comply with federal equal employment opportunity laws prohibiting discrimination. This includes the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Harassment and non-retaliation policy

Explain what harassment is and how they can report it. The handbook can include a form to fill out and to whom it should be submitted. Include a secondary contact in case the primary contact is the alleged harasser. All complaints must be investigated, even if they aren’t submitted in writing. Also include language on the fact that employees who bring a valid complaint forward will not face any retaliation in the workplace for doing so.

Applicable local laws

Employers are responsible for staying current with state and local legislation that directly impacts its worksite. Company policies must reflect those laws and rules. For example, employee handbooks in Illinois should include the VESSA Act and the Illinois Pregnancy Fairness Act to ensure compliance.


The details of your benefits program with eligibility requirements should cover legally required benefits such as Social Security and workers’ compensation as well as voluntary benefits like health insurance coverage and retirement benefits. Be sure to check if your state requires disability insurance.


Explain the required deductions for federal and state taxes that will be reflected in their pay. Provide the payment schedule along with any direct deposit options. Overtime pay regulations continue to be a moving target, so be sure to include FLSA’s latest ruling.

Hours and leave

With on-site, off-site and remote workers, employees need to understand attendance/break policies, flexible schedule options and timekeeping procedures. This section should also include your policies for requesting and taking time off (holiday/vacation, jury duty, personal leave, sick leave, bereavement leave). If you employ 50 or more employees, provide info on the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).


Help employees understand conduct expectations. This can include your dress code policy and ethics guidelines. Government regulated industries can remind employees of their legal obligations.

Safety and security

In compliance with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, proactively declare your commitment to creating a secure work environment. Provide a step-by-step process for reporting all accidents and potential safety hazards.

Workplace violence

With new state conceal-carry laws, include your policy explaining what can and cannot be brought onto company property and associated repercussions. Also include a section where the President of the company can make an exception if warranted on a case-by-case basis.

Acknowledgement form

An employee handbook is valuable only if your employees read and understand the policies and expectations. Employees should sign a stand-alone acknowledgement form confirming receipt and understanding of the handbook. The signed form should be kept in your employee’s personnel file.

Don’t expect employees to search for emails regarding important company policy changes. Update your employee handbook yearly and have it reviewed by legal counsel. If you’re still challenged, MidwestHR is a top PEO (professional employer organization) in Illinois that helps clients with everything HR-related including customized employee handbooks. Give us a call to get started.