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Why and How to Update Your Employee Handbook

You might only think about your employee handbook when you need to check a policy or hire someone new. Nonetheless, this document should be updated regularly. Learn why, how and when to update your employee handbook as you work to support everyone in the organization.

A paper with a heading of employee handbook, surrounding by glasses, pens, notepad, calculator.

Why Update Your Employee Handbook

Laws, policies, regulations, best practices, and cultural norms change regularly. Your employee handbook is a dynamic document that needs to reflect these shifts.

Ultimately, this document keeps your company's owners and staff on the same page with regard to practices and compliance. It reduces confusion about policies and establishes enforcement provisions. It also promotes transparency and collaboration, two essential elements of a successful business.

What to Update in Your Employee Handbook

As you revise your employee handbook, verify the relevance and legality of existing policies, regulations, and procedures. Next, add or delete items as needed. Here are nine categories to review:

  1. Federal, state and local laws, including workers' compensation, Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and non-discrimination policies

  2. Industry regulations, such as health and safety procedures

  3. Policies and procedures affected by expanding operations into other states or markets

  4. Cultural shifts that address remote work and wellness protocols

  5. Employee matters such as conduct, ethics, attendance, technology use, and dress code

  6. Company history, mission, values, and culture, including performance review details and promotion eligibility

  7. Benefits like time off, vacation and bonuses

  8. Disciplinary actions and termination procedures

  9. Cosmetic changes, such as typos, grammar errors or inconsistent font

When to Update Your Employee Handbook

Review your employee handbook carefully at least once each year. Schedule the review at the same time of year so that it becomes a habit.

Some companies update their handbooks as frequently as once every month. But unless your industry practices and regulations change often, this level of frequency can cost you time and confuse employees.

Who Should Update Your Employee Handbook

Typically, the human resources department manages employee handbook updates. However, your company can invite employees from each department to participate in the process. By including more people, you get a broader perspective, increase teamwork and create a more comprehensive document.

After you finish your review, give the legal team a copy. The legal department can ensure that the handbook complies with all applicable laws and addresses critical issues.

How to Distribute Updated Employee Handbooks

After you complete the final employee handbook update and review, print copies for every employee plus a few extra for future new hires. Next, give a copy to each current staff member and include a summary of all changes. Likewise, require employees to sign and date an acknowledgment that verifies they have received, read and understood the document. Store the signed acknowledgment in the employee's personnel file. In addition to the printed copy, you can provide employees with a digital copy.

Additional Considerations for Employee Handbook Updates

Maximize your employee handbook by using clear, concise language. The document should also be comprehensive and address common questions and concerns. To simplify the annual review, maintain a running file of potential changes. Throughout the year, earmark important revisions, additions and deletions.

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