Have you ever seen a professional football team go out onto the field without learning the playbook? Or a conductor leading an orchestra without a score? Well, that’s what operating a small business without an employee handbook looks like. Disorganized, chaotic, and confusing. An employee handbook not only outlines the rules and regulations of the company, it also gives the employees a sense of the company’s vision and culture.

According to an article by Paycor last month, “In a nutshell, “[the handbook] sets clear expectations for your employees while also stating your legal obligations and defining employee rights.” (8 Reasons You Should Have a Company Employee Handbook | Paycor) Creating an employee handbook forces your business to ask questions about whether you have procedures in place needed to manage liability. Do you have a process for handling allegations of sexual harassment? Are we complying with local regulations regarding paid time off? Do we have an IT policy to ensure that our data is being safeguarded?

An employee handbook also lets employees know what they can and can’t do. A review of the handbook allows employees to know what sort of actions they can expect from the company if they fall short of expectations. Will there be written warnings? An opportunity to go through a performance improvement program? By setting expectations (and adhering to the processes you set forth in the handbook), you reduce the chances that a termination will seem unfair to the employee. Further, by being able to justify the termination in terms of behaviors clearly prohibited in the handbook, you reduce the risk that the employee will contend that the firing was discriminatory.

The employee handbook is also a convenient reference tool. Some of the routine questions an HR leader or CEO will receive from new employees include, “How do I ask for time off?” and “What holidays do we observe?” These things are easily answered in the Employee Handbook when done well. It becomes a resource guide that all employees (and managers) can refer to easily to make sure that policies and procedures are implemented consistently and fairly across the board.

To ensure that your handbook meets the needs of your organization, utilize the knowledge and expertise of an HR professional, such as a virtual assistant with HR experience. A few key components to a strong employee handbook should include company vision or mission statement, a brief history of the company or introduction to the organization, procedures and policies, company statements on anti-discrimination and harassment policies, expectations for work hours, technology policy, compensation, and benefits.

We can all learn from our experiences in 2020 and the many curveballs thrown our way last year and take a huge step in protecting our companies and goals with a strong employee handbook.