The employee handbook is one of the most important communication tools between an organization and its employees. Not only does it set forth your expectations for your employees, but it also describes what they can expect from the company. Regardless of size, all employers should consider creating an employee handbook to make their organization’s policies accessible to employees. Written clearly and without ambiguity, a successful employee handbook is an important tool for communicating information regarding your policies, practices, and employee benefits.

While the policies outlined in your handbook will reflect your organization’s own unique culture, it is important to consider federal, state, and local laws and regulations that may affect your business when drafting your employee handbook. Therefore, it is important to have employment counsel review the handbook before you publish and distribute it. If you’re a small arts nonprofit in MA and don’t have employment counsel, contact The Arts & Business Council and their Investing in the Creative Workforce program.

Four great reasons to have an employee handbook:
1. Set and meet employee expectations: Just having a handbook demonstrates that you understand employees’ needs for information, and it can go a long way toward making a positive first impression on a new employee.

2. Shape behavior: A handbook should outline for employees how to behave and perform and what will happen if they fail to meet those expectations. A handbook should also inform employees about how they can succeed in their jobs.

Among other things, a handbook should:

  • Guide employees on how to request time off from work
  • Complain about operational matters or possible harassment
  • Keep a time record
  • Report possible theft or workplace violence
  • Dress appropriately
  • Refrain from drug and alcohol use
  • Maintain confidential information
  • Use electronic resources
  • Comply with laws

3. Encourage consistency: A handbook tailored to the way you do business helps ensure that employees across the organization handle issues consistently. A handbook should not be an “instruction book” on how to manage or deal with every conceivable problem or issue, but it should provide a framework for staff to follow.

4. Reduce legal liability: Employee handbooks are a vital way to help reduce legal responsibility and protect organizations against an employee’s claims in court on matters ranging from harassment to employee mistreatment. Handbooks are often considered a contractual obligation in court, and thus should not only be carefully worded but also updated annually to stay compliant with company and government regulations.

Contributed by Cliff Watkin of Ipswich Bay Advisors
You can reach Cliff at