Human Resources: 7 Topics to Address in Your Company’s Employee Handbook

Employee handbooks help define a company’s culture and set expectations for employee conduct. These manuals execute and perform crucial roles in defining the legal rights and obligations of both the employer and employee.

Every employer should consider local, state and federal laws, along with policies and procedures specific to the organization and its industry when developing an employee handbook. While there are many types of policies to consider, there are seven key areas every employee handbook should cover:

1: At-will statement

Florida is an “employment-at-will” state, meaning an employer may terminate employment at any time, for any reason, and without notice, unless another existing local, state or federal law or recognized public policy asserts otherwise.

All Florida companies should include a lawful “at-will” statement in its employee handbook. The statement should explain that employment is not contractual nor is it for a definitive term, and just as the employee is free to resign at any time, the employer reserves the right to terminate the employee at any time.

2: Code of conduct

All companies should have a widely applicable code of conduct. It is important to set expectations for your employees on everything from dress code to attendance to social media use. Address any legal obligations related to conduct, especially when it comes to any regulated aspects of your business; while taking steps to ensure that such restrictions comply with the latest mandates issued by regulatory agencies such as the National Labor Relations Board.

3: Harassment, discrimination and retaliation

Policies against discrimination and harassment help maintain a safe and productive work environment. These policies provide additional defenses for employers that are the targets of harassment or discrimination lawsuits. All applicable protected classifications should be included in the policy.

Define a process for reporting harassment and discrimination to the employer and government entities such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Policies protecting employees who report a violation from retaliation should be included.

4: Drugs and alcohol

The employee handbook should state that employees are not permitted to have illegal drugs or prohibited amounts of alcohol in “in their systems” while working. This section should state the employers’ right to order a drug test at any time, and explain the consequences of testing positive.

Keep Florida’s developing medical marijuana law in mind. Currently, the law does not require employers to allow or accommodate employee use of medical marijuana, even if the employee has a legal prescription. However, this could change over the coming year.

Employers should consider participating in Florida’s Drug Free Workplace Program, which may extend discounts on workers compensation premiums to those employers who voluntarily adopt compliant policies.

5: Safety and non-violence

A policy to address workplace safety and security that is compliant with the Occupational Health and Safety Administration should be in place. Safety policies should cover company procedures for extreme weather events such as hurricanes and other situations that could potentially be hazardous for employees.

An employee handbook should explicitly state that any employee who commits an act of violence against another person while at work will be terminated. Violent behavior outside of work and procedures for reporting violent acts or threats should also be addressed.

6: Confidentiality and conflicts of interest

Put policies in place to protect the company’s intellectual property, trade secrets and other confidential information. These policies apply to every company but are especially important for startup and early-stage companies that are bringing an innovative product or service to market.

The employee handbook should provide specific examples of conflicts of interest, confidential information and trade secrets. Address disciplinary action for employees who violate the company’s confidentiality rules, which may include termination or legal action.

7: Time-off and employee leave

Most people think about policies for sick time, vacation and holidays, but employees may need to use leave for many other reasons. Companies with less than 50 employees are not likely to be subject to federal laws that govern how employers handle leave for family and medical reasons, bereavement, military leave, jury duty, court cases and voting. Still, startups and early-stage companies should consider policies for these types of leave.

These seven topics address only a portion of what an employee handbook should cover, and the handbook should be updated annually to remain compliant with legal changes. Consider enlisting experienced employment counsel to assist the company as it grows.


Brett Owens is an associate in the Tampa office of Fisher Phillips. The national labor and employment law firm is committed to providing practical business solutions for employers’ workplace legal problems. For tips on managing workplace issues, visit