If you have employees, you need an employee handbook (or, as some companies call it, a “policies and procedures manual”). The Small Business Administration (SBA) notes that the handbook is one of the keys to communication between you and your staff, so it’s vital to have one that’s clear, understandable and comprehensive.

If you haven’t created an employee handbook yet, try not to think of it as a chore – see it instead as a chance to let your employees know what you expect of them AND what they can expect from you. Understand that it’s a chance to clarify points, put your staff on solid footing and reassure them that you have their best interests in mind. And also understand that this is the book that your employees will go to first if they have a question, dispute or concern with the company. Be sure to avoid misunderstandings and vague wording, since some court cases have found that an employee handbook is a contractual obligation.

If you don’t have one, get started on your handbook right away. This is not something you should put off! Note, as usual: This is not a legal website, we are not lawyers, and this blog post should not be construed as legal advice. We just want to help you write a good employee handbook.

Here are the 10 topics that the SBA says should be in your employee handbook:

1. Non-Disclosure Agreements and Confidentiality Statements – If you’re starting or running a small business, you probably have intellectual property or proprietary information/products that you don’t want to lose control of. Have your employees sign NDAs to help you protect what’s yours. Even if the people who work for you are your best friends or family, NDAs can prevent big headaches later.

2. Compensation – Each staff member might draw a different salary or hourly rate, but the handbook needs to make it clear that you’ll be making deductions for state and federal taxes and any voluntary benefits programs the company offers and that the employee wishes to participate in. Also, you need to outline any overtime pay policies, schedules of performance reviews, salary increases, bonuses, time/schedule keeping and other pay-related issues.

3. Work Schedule – When are your employees expected on the job, and what happens if they don’t make it on time? This section of your manual should include your company’s work hours, attendance requirements, flexible schedules and telecommuting options (if any), and what your policy is for reporting absences.

4. Anti-Discrimination – If you employ people, you must comply with equal employment opportunity laws and the Americans with Disabilities Act, regardless of the size or nature of your company. Discrimination and harassment are never permitted under the law. Be sure that your handbook outlines these laws, including any state laws that might affect your staff, and make it clear that your employees are expected to follow the laws in question.

5. Standards of Conduct – What is expected of your employees regarding behavior, dress code, etc? This is your chance to be clear about how employees should represent themselves while on the job. Also mention any legal obligations your employees might have as part of your company (such as protecting customer data if you work in a business that collects information about clients).

6. Safety and Security – This section is all about keeping the staff members safe, from hazardous weather policies to workplace safety topics. Make it clear that you commit to a safe workplace and that you expect your staff to do the same, from keeping cabinets and computers locked when not being used to keeping walkways clear and fire exits available. Explain compliance with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) laws and how employees should report accidents, possible dangerous situations, injuries and other issues that could arise.

7. Computers/Technology – Most of us work with computers at least some of the time, so if your employees use technology on the job, make it clear what your policies are. Outline what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate computer use, and give employees instructions on keeping personal or sensitive info private and protected. You should also establish some guidelines for social media use in the workplace.

8. Benefits and Leave – All available benefits (as well as what the employees have to do to earn them) should be in the handbook. Some benefits, such as disability insurance and COBRA, may be required by law. Some leave is also required by law, such as jury duty, military leave, family and medical leave and court cases/voting leave. You should also use this section to outline any vacation policies, holiday time off, bereavement policies, sick leave options, retirement, health insurance options, and any other benefits (such as employee assistance, tuition reimbursement, business travel, etc) that you might offer your staff.

9. Media Relations – At some point, many businesses will be contacted by the media. Use this section of the handbook to tell employees what to do if they answer a call from reporters and media outlets. Your company should have a single media contact person (often, that will be you) who handles all calls and questions from the media, so be sure your employees know to simply forward all inquiries to that contact and not talk to the media themselves when calls come. Of course, most of your staff members won’t knowingly share company secrets or portray the company in a negative light to the media, but most people don’t have the media savvy to avoid saying unwanted things if they talk to reporters, so prevent any problems before they happen by establishing your media contact in the handbook.

10. General Info – This is where you share info about the business as a whole and the more general employment policies you’ll maintain. These can include policies for employee records, employee referrals, eligibility, job postings and classifications, probation, procedures for terminations or resignations, info about transfers and relocations, and even union info if you work with unions.

Here’s a list of things you should NOT do in your employee handbook:

1. Do NOT be rude, snarky, humorous or vague – This document is an official workplace communication, not a chance for you to flex your funny bone or leave major concepts unexplained. Your employees will take away from this manual a number of things, including how you as a boss see them, so be sure to keep the content professional. This holds true even if your staff is made up entirely of your own friends and family.

2. Do NOT assume that things left unsaid are understood – All of the policies that impact your workers should appear in the handbook. Period. If you leave out details and assume that everyone will simply know what to do in those situations… Well, you know what they say about “assuming” things. Be comprehensive in your employee handbook content! It’s better to have too much info than not enough.

3. Do NOT be overly detailed – The Small Business Notes site points out that, while it’s important to be clear in your handbook, you don’t want to overwhelm staffers with a hefty tome loaded with too much info. If you have other documents that you plan to give the employee (retirement plan info or insurance documents, for example), allude to those documents in the handbook and then provide them separately instead of rewriting them into the handbook itself.

4. Do NOT simply distribute the handbook and then forget about it – When you hire a new staff member, give them the book, but then also talk them through the key points. Advise them to read it thoroughly, and then have them sign a form that says “I have read and understood the employee handbook of XYZ Company.” This is called the Employee Acknowledgment Form, and it helps protect you from workers who might claim that they never received or read the book at all. A great template for this form can be found here, at Small Business Notes.