Employee Handbooks in Minnesota – Key Topics, Common Pitfalls, and Drafting Tips

Minnesota law does not require that employers have an employee handbook. However, having an employee handbook is highly recommended. The employee handbook is designed to provide employees with a copy of the policy, procedures, and acceptable conduct in the company. Employee handbooks can be as simple or complex as necessary for the job. What is most important is that handbook covers the necessary topics such as: business policies; employee orientation and training; employee work policies; employee pay information; leave of absence; sick pay; vacation days; FMLA; civic duty; religious holidays; school functions; bereavement; special events; employee discipline; job performance; employee benefits; and chain of command and reporting requirements.

Knowing what to put into the employee handbook is just one part of the puzzle, it is also important to know what pitfalls to avoid. Knowing the common pitfalls associated with employee handbooks will help employers have a comprehensive employee handbook that is easy to follow and enforceable.

In addition to knowing what needs to be in the employee handbook and what pitfalls to avoid, employers need to know the best way to draft the handbook. Creating a comprehensive handbook that is well organized and easy to follow will make the book an efficient tool. The purpose of the handbook is to have a tool employees can refer to rules, policies, and general questions. Having the book drafted in the most efficient manner will make the book much more useful.


An employee handbook is a necessity that every employer should create. The handbook creates an agreement between the employer and the employee about how each is party is to conduct themselves in the business. The employer should provide each employee a copy of the handbook at hiring.

Key Topics

Every employee handbook should contain a few key topics. While each employer should customize the topics based on their individual needs, the following topics are universally useful.

  • Business Policies – Every employee handbook should contain the Business’s basic policies. Every handbook should include what type of organization structure exists. The book should also include whether the employer is an equal opportunity employer. The book should have the company’s harassment policy and chain of command for reporting incidents, and how any incidents need to be documented. The handbook should also include the business’s bad weather policy, if relevant. In addition, the business policies section should include the following: drug, alcohol, and tobacco use policies; dress code; phone use policies; required or encouraged methods of transportation; and, if applicable, use of company equipment for personal reasons.
  • Employee Work Policies – The employee handbook should clearly lay out the work policies each employee is expected to follow. This section clearly list the employee’s job description, if there are multiple positions, position should be clearly defined. This section should also include what the expected hours are for each employee or shift. The employee work policies section should also over attendance/lateness and how occurrences will be handled. This section also needs to cover what the employee’s work schedule is, and the companies probationary period if one exists.
  • Employee Discipline – Minnesota is an “at will” state, which means an employee can quit for any reason and the employer can fire the employee for any legal reason. Illegal reasons include discrimination based on race, creed, color, national origin, ancestry, religion, age, disability, sexual orientation, or marital status. Even though Minnesota is an “at will” state, the employee handbook should clearly lay out any known terminable or disciplinary offenses. The employee handbook should also discuss how discipline is to occur (verbal, written, and/or automatic termination). Finally, if there is an alternative dispute resolution requirement, such as arbitration, this needs to be clearly laid out in the handbook.
  • Employee Orientation and Training – The handbook should always include an orientation and training section. In this section, the employer should include how orientation and training are compensated, when it takes place, and how long it will last.
  • Employee Pay Information – The employer should clearly lay out for the employee how compensation works. The handbook should include what the pay dates are. In addition, the handbook should cover what the pay period is. This section should also include how employee compensation is determined, this includes annual cost of living raises and performance review raises. Finally, this section should contain information about bonuses, if any are offered, and how they are earned.
  • Time Off – There are many reasons why employees may need time off, this section should cover for all contingencies.
    • Sick Leave – Minnesota does not require paid sick leave or any sick leave. However, if an employer is going to offer paid or unpaid sick leave, the policy needs to be clearly written out in the handbook. The sick leave policy should include how many days the employee is entitled to and if a medical note will also be required. To be in compliance with Minnesota law, the handbook also needs to inform the employee that they can take their sick leave for the following reasons: to care for an ill or injured minor child; adult child; spouse; sibling; parent; mother-in-law; father-in-law; grandchild; grandparent; or stepparent. Finally, this section needs to inform employees that they can use their sick leave for safety leave in the event they are in a domestic violence situation.
    • Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) – Both Minnesota and the Federal Government offer a Family Medical Leave Act. In the handbook, if the employer meets the employee requirement for FBLA, they must clearly lay out how FMLA works for their employees. When drafting this section, the employer should refer to the US Department of Labor comparison sheet.
    • Leave of Absence – The employee handbook should clearly state if employees are entitled to take a leave of absence for non-FMLA reasons. Leave of absences for non-FMLA reasons are not required, but if offered, the terms of leave should be very clear.
    • Bereavement – Bereavement policies need to be clearly defined, if any are offered. The handbook should include whether the time is paid, how many days off are offered for which degree of relative or friend, and what evidence is needed. This policy needs to be clearly laid out because Minnesota law does require that an employer offer any type of bereavement leave.
    • Vacation – The handbook should clearly define what the vacation policy is. The handbook should include whether vacation time off will be paid or unpaid. Finally, the policy needs to clearly state how many consecutive days off can be taken in period for vacation purposes.
    • School Events – The employee handbook should clearly state that employees are allowed, under Minnesota law, to take up to sixteen hours of leave, during a twelve-month period, for school conferences and events.
    • Civic Duties – The employee handbook needs to carefully inform employees of certain civic duties. The handbook needs to spell out what their jury duty policy is. If called for jury duty, an employee who must serve or chooses to serve cannot be fired. However, they employer is not required to pay the employee for the time they are serving on jury duty. The employer needs to make sure the employee handbook explains this very well. The employee handbook also needs to clearly inform employees that Minnesota law requires that employers offer the employee enough time off to vote at their schedule polling station.
    • Religious and Non-Religious Holidays – The employee handbook needs to clearly define, which, if any, holidays will be observed and which will be work days. The handbook also needs to note whether the days off will be paid or unpaid. The employee handbook also needs to cover rules for religious holidays that do not fall on closed days. The handbook should state what accommodations will be made to accommodate the employee. For religious holidays, the employer needs to clearly state what evidence of religious practice they will require to accommodate the time off.
  • Job Performance Reviews – The employee handbook should explain how job performance reviews will be administered. This section should cover whether there will be job performance bonuses and raises.
  • Employee Benefits – This section of the handbook should cover what benefits are offered to employees. This section should explain healthcare coverage offered or where to obtain it in compliance with the Affordable Care Act. This section of the handbook should also discuss whether severance pay will be offered, if housing is covered by the employer, long and short-term disability insurance, and workers compensation insurance.
  • Employee Signature Page – Every employee handbook should have a signature page that is to be signed by the employee and added to their personnel file. The signature page indicates the employee has read and understands the handbook. Whenever the handbook is updated, the employee should be given a new copy, or a copy of the updated sections and a new signature page to sign.

Common Pitfalls

Having an employee handbook is very important for a business, because it clearly defines the roles, rights, and responsibilities of the employee and the employer. There are some common pitfalls that need to be avoided in order to ensure the handbook is successful. The most common pitfalls of employee handbooks include:

  • Failure to Have an Employee Handbook – Not having an employee handbook is the biggest pitfall when it comes to employee handbooks. There is a simple way to overcome this pitfall, create an employee handbook. If you create an employee handbook, make sure each employee is given a copy or a chance to review the handbook and knows where a copy is at all times to refer to. Avoiding this pitfall will help the business run much more smoothly.
  • Failure to Update the Employee Handbook – The second biggest pitfall with employee handbooks is not keep them up-to-date. An out of date handbook will not be very useful and will cause undue hardship on the business. An easy remedy or avoid this pitfall is to have the employer update the existing handbook every time there is a change. There should be one person who has the duty to keep the book up-to-date and then provides the employees with a copy of the changes that have been made.
  • Failure to Comply with the Employee Handbook – The third pitfall employers’ face when it comes to handbooks is not complying with the handbook. Failure to comply with the handbook will leave everyone uncertain of what they are supposed to be doing. The simplest way to resolve this pitfall is to comply with the handbook. If the handbook is no longer working, then it should be updated rather than disregarded.
  • Failure to Provide Each Employee with a Copy of the Handbook – The fourth pitfall employers need to avoid with handbooks is failure to provide the employees with a copy of the book. Every employee should be required to read the handbook at a minimum, at should really be provided with a copy. The handbook does not do any good if the employee does not have a copy of it to refer to. This is the easiest pitfall to correct. The employer should provide each employee with their own copy, or at the very least make sure there is an accessible, up-to-date copy in the employee area that can be easily accessed and referred to.

Drafting Tips

Drafting the employee handbook is an important process. The handbook should be drafted in a fashion that will be useful and easy to understand. Things to consider when drafting the handbook include:

  • Clear and Concise Writing – When drafting an employee handbook the writing needs to clear and concise. The handbook should avoid the use of confusing terms. The book should be written clearly enough that a new employee will understand the rules as well as a seasoned employee.
  • Clearly Defined Sections – The handbook should be separated into clearly defined sections. The employee should be able to flip to a specified section to find the rules, rather than having to hunt for what they need. The use of a table of contents is always a good idea when making the book.
  • Organized in Order of Importance – The handbook should be set up in order of importance. The order of importance should be decided by the employer in advance of putting the book together. The order of the material matters because the book should have the most important and relevant information at the very beginning, this will help insure it is easy to find
  • Ease to Read Font and Size – Choosing a good font and font size will help with the readability of the book. The font and its size should be something that is easy to read. When putting the book together it is best to avoid fancy, hard to read fonts, as well as, small font sizes. Choosing the right font and size will make a world of difference, especially with visually impaired and older employees.
  • Bound and Labeled – The handbook should be a book. It should be bound together in a book or a three-ring-binder. The sections of the book she also be labeled in order to assist the employees and/or the employer locate the information they are looking for. Binding and labeling will make the book much more user friendly and easier to access when it is needed. The handbook should also be kept in a digital form to make updating easier.


Having an employee handbook is one of the best decisions any Minnesota business could make. While creating the handbook will take a little bit of work, the extra effort will be worth it. Employers who have a handbook for the employees to follow will benefit from having clearly defined policies and procedures. Having a handbook will also make life for the employer easier. There will be less room for excuses and a set of rules and procedures for everyone to follow and a protocol when the rules are disregarded.

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