Even Pirates Had a Code, Your Company and Your Employees Need a Handbook!

How many times have you ever played a game for the first time and not read the rules of the game?  Most games and sports have rules and regulations about how the game will be played for a reason, so the game will be as fair as possible. 

I my years of doing hundreds of new hire orientations the first thing employees do is read the handbook if available, they want to know the rules of the game and how the game will be played.  That is what a handbook does, it shares information about the company’s’ Mission, Vision and Values and why the company exists.  It’s consistent messaging informs its employees about acceptable and unacceptable behaviors and the course of action that will be taken employees stray from the guidelines.

Even pirates had a code of conduct, articles or articles of agreement that governed them.  A group of sailors, on turning pirate, would draw up their own code or articles in writing that provided rules for discipline, division of stolen goods and compensation for injured pirates and each pirate had to sign or make his mark[i].

Like pirates, when organizations start to establish a team the first thing they should do is determine their mission, vision and/or values statements.  The employee handbook should be created quickly after that to help maintain the companies’ culture, employee engagement and outcomes.  It can answer many employee questions before issues arise and protects the employer from baseless complaints. 

Don't have a handbook yet? Download our free employee handbook template today!

For many reasons a handbook is a human resources best practice.  It is always the best insurance policy an employer can have if they are ever challenged in court or by any agency or outlet an employee can contact and allows the employer to better defend any action that has been taken.  Although I have heard many times over my career that “that” could never happen to my organization with my employees, I have seen it happen more times than I care to count.  

If an employer does get a complaint filed with an agency or attorney without a handbook they usually don’t get to go to court, they get to go directly to CA$H, they do not pass go and do not collect $200.00.  Likewise, attorney’s, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Department of Labor or Unemployment Agency in your state probably won’t care what your “gut” has to say either.

While there are no laws that currently require businesses to have a handbook, the need is still there.  There are many laws that require employers to notify workers of certain workplace rights, but what business owner or HR professional has the time to track them all down when having a thorough handbook is all you need.  A well written handbook puts everything at your fingertips.

I addition, l always encourage companies to give the handbook and benefits guide, if applicable, to seriously considered candidates. The more they know about an organization the better decision they can make to join the team.

If you don’t have a handbook below is suggested content that is usually broken down into sections:

  • Company Story, Mission, Vision and/or Values and a Welcome to the Team Letter helps set the tone for the company’s culture. I personally like the mission, vision and values statements because if written correctly can assist companies with attitude problems because in close-knit working environments manners matter.
  • Legal Compliance such as EEOC, Anti-harassment policies, FMLA, COBRA, or state specific laws like Maryland Sick/Safe Leave.
  • Company Specific Policies informs employees what to expect from leadership and addresses company specific policies like paid time off, safety, time and attendance, social media, working hours, pay information, dress code, breaks, smoking, how disciplinary actions will typically be handled, jury duty, emergency contingencies for inclement weather, how to call out from work or request vacation time and termination.
  • Benefits should be generically listed as they can changed or modified from year to year.
  • Employee Handbook Acknowledgement Page – great for unemployment and others legal protections.

Download our free employee handbook template to get you started!

Steps to take if your organization has completed or revised a handbook: 

  • Discuss with your employees why you a rolling out a new handbook or revising policies
  • Implement and adhere to the new handbook or policies
  • Revise the handbook as needed, it is always a living document
  • Monitor the results if the handbook is new or a policy or policies have changed
  • Modify if necessary, sometime even the best intentions have unpredicted outcomes
  • Implement all policies consistently and fairly, employees are usually aware of who and what happens to their  co-workers, or not?
  • Consider it the “go-to” book or your first source for information for your all employee related issues. In my career when a manager comes to me with an employee issue the first and only question is “What does the handbook say?” and let the games begin!

I addition, l always encourage companies to give the handbook and benefits guide, if applicable, to seriously considered candidates. The more they know about an organization the better decision they can make to join the team.

I once worked for an organization (for a very short period of time) and had I been given the opportunity to read the handbook before accepting the position I probably would have reconsidered my decision and when I did read the handbook on the first day, I should have run out the door.  The tone of the handbook, some of it in caps: EMPLOYEE WILL NOT, EMPLOYEE WILL NOT, EMPLOYEE WILL NOT was like they were yelling at me, and guess what, they YELLED AT ME and anyone else that happened to be in the area on a regular basis.  The handbook truly captured the culture of that organization. 

If you need help creating or revising your employee handbook, contact Uncharted HR.


[1] Wikipedia – Nine complete or nearly complete sets of pirate articles have survived, chiefly from Charles Johnson‘s A General History of the Pyrates, first published in 1724, and from records kept by Admiralty Court proceedings at the trials of pirates[6]. A partial code from Henry Morgan is preserved in Alexandre Exquemelin‘s 1678 book The Buccaneers of America. Many other pirates are known to have had articles; the late-17th century Articles of George Cusack and Nicholas Clough have survived intact. Few pirate articles have survived; pirates on the verge of capture or surrender usually burned their articles or threw them overboard to prevent the papers being used against them at trial[6].

Every Company Should Have a handbook! Sign up below to download our free handbook template:

Would you like to be added to the email list to receive Uncharted HR news and updates?