A Breakdown of Employee Handbooks – What’s Included and When to Update Them

Breakdown of Employee Handbooks Employee Handbooks are an integral part of Canadian workplaces. Whether you have 10 employees or 100+ employees, you want to make sure that your Employee Handbook is up to date and current with legislative requirements under the various employment statutes. 

Why are Employee Handbooks Important? 

Your Handbook should be an easy, go-to resource for any questions your employees have about policies, conduct, compensation, time off, discipline, and who to speak to about what. A well put together Handbook ensures your employees are confident and knowledgeable about their workplace and outlines not only what is expected of your employees but also what your employees can expect from you. 

What to Include in an Employee Handbook:

An Employee Handbook should outline all the core policies and procedures of a workplace, along with your company’s values and expectations. It should be humanized and catered to your company’s culture. It’s also important that it is user-friendly and accessible. 

The key sections to include in your Employee Handbook are:

An Introduction 

Although this may be obvious, a good place to start is with an introduction to your company. Not only do you want to formally welcome your team, but it’s also helpful to include the background of your company and where the company is headed, along with your core values, mission statement and overall approach to workplace culture. 

Employment Policies

Next, you’ll want to lay out all the key employment policies for your workplace. There are various mandatory policies that need to be in every Employee Handbook, including an Occupational Health and Safety Policy, a Workplace Violence and Harassment Policy, an Accessibility Policy, a Pay Equity Plan Policy (for private sector employers that have 100 + employees), and a Disconnect from Work Policy (for employers with 25 + employees). This last one is a new mandatory policy, which we’ve addressed in past blogs. Outside of these legally required policies, there are numerous recommended and optional policies that can, and should, also be included in your Handbook. 

Compensation and Benefits

In this section, you’ll want to outline your company’s expectations surrounding hours of work and breaks, as well as what your employees can expect in terms of overtime, compensation, bonuses, expenses, and benefits. In some cases, these categories will be covered in an employment contract, so it may be redundant to also include them in your Handbook, but always good to include those terms that apply broadly to the full workplace. 

Time Off From Work 

It’s recommended to include sections about leaves, vacation time, and public holidays in your Handbook so employees are fully aware of the protocols surrounding time off work. Employees are entitled to leaves of absence under the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (“ESA”), so it’s important to clearly identify these entitlements, typically by referencing entitlement to the ESA leaves without too much granular detail to allow for statutory changes over time. Public holidays and vacation time are good to include to show your company’s value in work-life balance, to encourage employees to take time off, and again, for employees to know their entitlements. 


You want to include a section outlining what is expected of both the employee and employer in terms of conduct. An important part to include is a performance management and discipline process. You want this nicely detailed, showing there is a set of standard protocols to be followed when disciplining employees. Having a written procedure, including a model for progressive discipline, helps to eliminate unfair or disproportionate treatment of employees. 


Lastly, you’ll want your employees to sign off that they’ve read and understood your Handbook to ensure compliance. 

How often should Employee Handbooks be updated? 

As we know, the employment world is ever-changing, so it’s important that your Employee Handbook is a dynamic work-in-progress. It should be reviewed regularly to ensure it is up to date with current policies. It should also not only be offered to new hires but also introduced to all employees when updates are made. This ensures your entire workforce is on the same page.

Remember, your Employee Handbook is not just for employees. It should be a unifying document that opens the door for two-way communications about the workplace and expectations. 

Get in touch to ensure your Employee Handbook is current and up to date! Or prefer to build your own Employee Handbook but need a starting point? Check out our New Employer Toolkit, which includes all the core and mandatory policies in our Starter Employee Handbook template. 


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