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Creating an employee handbook for small business

Creating an employee handbook for small business

No legislation exists in Canada for organizations to have an employee handbook. But it’s in every company’s interest to have one.

An employee handbook helps inform staff about what’s expected of them. Policies can be outlined, and necessary forms attached.

There isn’t a need to describe every rule or procedure in detail. The handbook could provide a general overview. Readers can be pointed to specific resources if thorough coverage is necessary. Consider addressing the following items in your handbook: 


Begin with a brief welcome to employees, explaining what the handbook covers and why it’s purpose. A bit about the employer’s mission, values and history might appear here as well.

Code of conduct

These handbooks typically contain a code of conduct for employees. Set guidelines around appropriate behaviour for your workplace. Harassment and discrimination policies should also be clearly defined. Progressive discipline and procedures for making a complaint could be present.

Business ethics is a related (though discretionary) subject. Do you have policies on giving or receiving gifts? Honesty in transactions? If so, include or reference them in this section.

General policies

Here is where you discuss such matters as attendance, confidentiality, dress code, cause for termination, an Equal Opportunity statement, access to personnel records, parking, conflicts of interest, additional terms and conditions of employment and the like. 

Safety and emergencies

It is vital to discuss steps employees should take in case of a crisis. For accidents, injuries, medical or safety calamities: instruct people on how to get out of harm’s way, contact authorities, and seek medical attention quickly.


Provide a summary of Compensation and Benefits. Include pay periods, work hours and reporting procedures, vacation entitlements, list of observed holidays, personal leaves; group insurance and disability coverage, company pension programs; employee training programs and financial support for additional education; Employee Assistance Program (EAP) access, etc.

Additional topics 

The items above might form the core of your employee handbook. They might be sufficient to satisfy the needs of your organization. 

Yet some areas are optional, depending on how much you want to pack in. What follows are some of these additional elements.

Acknowledgment form for employees

Each employee should sign and submit a statement that acknowledges receipt of the handbook. You should ensure your employees’ review, be familiar with, and abide by its contents. Following this procedure will assist your firm in case regulations are violated, or legal action arises. 

Optional: Use of company equipment and electronics

Optional: Monitoring in the workplace

  • Scrutiny of email, computer, voicemail, internet and telephone
  • Video surveillance, physical searches, drug tests

Optional: Additional employee forms

Confidentiality and Non-Compete forms. However, they should stand on their own and be signed/submitted to the proper authority at the time of onboarding.

Optional: Accommodation for people with disabilities 

You may want to highlight aspects of accommodation programs in place for people with physical or mental challenges. This might encompass special work arrangements, tools or devices available, subsidies and training provided. 

Keep it simple and accessible 

The smaller your company is, the less that should be packed into an employee handbook. Make sure to cover the main topics and point out supplementary resources as needed.

The handbook itself can be printed or virtual. Many employers place the handbook behind a password-protected section on the employee intranet. So long as it’s easily accessible anytime, it can serve as a fast, valuable reference. 

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