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What to Include in Your Operations Handbook
November 8, 2023
Store employee reviewing content on tablet with manager

It’s crucial that every small business—no matter its size—has a business operations handbook. Your handbook should include your standardized operating procedures, so your staff knows how you expect the company to be run if you are away from your business. Operations handbooks are your team’s go-to manual for handling any situation, from employee break times to how to cope with angry customers.

Although the exact contents of your operations handbook depend on your industry and business, the following is a general guideline to help you create your operations handbook:

  • Company organization chart (from CEO to support staff)
  • Job descriptions, including responsibilities and expectations
  • Safety instructions should cover everything from equipment handling to breakroom appliances
  • Emergency procedures covering natural disasters, fire, flood, and workplace violence should be included
  • Contact information for managers, departments, IT help, and key insurance phone numbers
  • Company information. This section includes company hours of operation, physical address, mailing address, phone numbers, email address, and website URL.

Business Processes and Policies

This section should comprise the bulk of your operations handbook, including how company processes work and any policies related to employees and customers. Policies are rules (what to do and what not to do). Procedures are step-by-step explanations of tasks. The legal requirements of what must be included vary by state.

Federally, employee sections of handbooks (or separate employee handbooks) must include the following:

  • Equal Employment and Anti-Discrimination Policy: Under the laws enforced by EEOC, it is illegal to discriminate against someone (applicant or employee) because of that person’s race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.
  • Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) Policy (for companies with 50 or more employees). The FMLA entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons without disrupting their group health insurance coverage. And that coverage must remain under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave.
  • Jury Duty Leave. All employers must provide leave for federal jury duty. The states set other jury duty policies.
  • Military Service Leave. Federal law requires employers to give employees 15 days leave per fiscal year for active duty, active duty training, and inactive duty training.
  • Sexual Harassment Policy. Also, under laws enforced by the EEOC, it is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. Harassment does not have to be sexual and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. The victim and the harasser can be either a woman or a man, and the victim and harasser can be the same sex.

State labor laws determine what other information your operations handbooks should contain regarding employees.

For example, depending on how many employees the company has, the following are required policies in California (CA):

  • Adult Illiteracy Leave (25 employees)
  • Alcohol and Drug Rehabilitation Leave (25 employees)
  • Civil Service and Air Patrol Leave
  • Crime Victim Leave
  • Domestic Violence Leave (25 employees)
  • FMLA (CA requires this for more than five employees)
  • Health and Safety Policy
  • Jury Duty Leave
  • Lactation Accommodation
  • Meal and Rest Breaks
  • Military Service Leave
  • Organ, Bone Marrow, and Blood Donor Leave (15 employees)
  • Outside Employment Policy
  • Paid Sick Leave (some of these are city-specific)
  • Paid Time Off (vacation policies)
  • Pregnancy Leave (5 employees)
  • School Activity Leave (50 employees)
  • School Activity Leave (50 employees)
  • Voting Leave
  • Witness Duty Leave
  • Retirement plan (5 or more employees)

Operations Section for Managers

You may want to create a separate section for key personnel or managers. The manager section would include critical information you don’t want all employees to have access to, such as:

  • Lists of vendors/suppliers, including contact information, company account numbers, etc.
  • Insurance company contact information, plus policy numbers and group numbers
  • Bank accounts information, along with the bank contact person
  • Contact information for the company’s accountant and where to find critical financial data
  • Company attorney information
  • Landlord’s phone and address

Department Operations

You will also need to include sections explaining the policies and procedures for each department. For example, if you own a retail store, you might have a policy of accepting returns within 30 days with a receipt and procedures for processing returns and issuing refunds.

You should include policies and procedures for:

  • Administration
  • Sales
  • Customer Service
  • Fulfillment
  • HR
  • Marketing
  • Safety and Security
  • Maintenance and repair

Customer Procedures

Depending on your type of business, this section could cover everything from how to greet customers to outlining return policies. For service businesses, focus on how you’d like customers to be treated, what extras employees can offer to make a sale, when a supervisor should be called in to handle an upset customer, etc.

Final Sections

Two additional sections should be included in your operations handbook to keep your business running safely and efficiently—cybersecurity and remote working policies.


To keep your business safe and prevent putting your critical information at risk, you must establish cybersecurity policies for employees to follow. Require employees to protect and update passwords according to a set schedule and to use company antivirus software programs. Other recommendations, such as safe email practices, should also be included. Check out the FCC’s free cyber planner wizard to create custom cyber guidelines for your company.

Remote Working

Now that more businesses operate under a hybrid work model, your operations handbook should include guidelines and policies regarding when and how employees can work from home. Besides cybersecurity policies, work-at-home (WAH) procedures should include required hours, approved software technology, and communication obligations.

Most companies today make the operations handbook available to view and download from the company website or intranet. Having the handbook in the cloud makes it easy for you to update and for employees to access. Keep your handbook current, and have employees review it periodically. This helps ensure your business is in good hands, even when you’re not around, and enables smoother business operations.

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Funded, in part, through a Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. All opinions, and/or recommendations expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SBA.

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