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Episode 154 | Tips for a Better Employee Handbook with Niki Ramirez



  • Episode 154 | Tips for a Better Employee Handbook with Niki Ramirez 00:00


Hey Group Practice listeners! New podcast episode out today! In this episode, you’re getting a clip from a training from my Exchange Membership where Niki Ramirez gave us her top tips for a better handbook.

In this episode we cover:
→ What to avoid in your handbook
→ Handbook as a comprehensive program
→ Handbook as a living document

This episode is sponsored by TherapyNotes. TherapyNotes is an EHR software that helps behavioral health professionals manage their practice with confidence and efficiency. I use TherapyNotes in my own group practice and love its amazing support team, billing features, and scheduling capabilities. It serves us well as a large group practice owner.

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Maureen Werrbach

Maureen Werrbach

Well, welcome back everyone. Today I’m going to be sharing a clip from an expert training inside The Exchange Membership program. If you’re a member, you can jump in and listen to the whole training or watch the whole training. And if you’re not a member, you can become a member by going to members dot the group practice exchange dot com. So today’s clip is from Nikki Ramirez who is my HR person in my own group practice, she owns, and is also a Q&A facilitator inside the exchange membership. So you can get some direct feedback from her in there as well. I highly recommend her she’s really been amazing for my group practice. And so this clip was from a previous training she did inside the exchange on tips for employee handbook trainings. So we’re going to take a listen to that and jump back in.

Niki Ramirez

I’m going to give you a little bit of stuff to avoid. So I’ve kind of bundled a few things together here to be honest with you. Tip number three, avoid a few things.

First thing we want to avoid is creating a contract for employment with the handbook.

So the handbook is meant to be a set of policies and a guide rail for your employees to hold on to when they’re making decisions in your business. And again, oftentimes in your handbook, you will see a statement that actually says this handbook is not a contract, it’s not meant to be a contract, should not be construed as a contract. And then later, we’re creating policies, sometimes mistakenly that look like contracts or that are asking for contractual consideration. So we have to be careful about that. And you know, that’s one of those things that over the years, you kind of understand how to walk that fine line and balance it out where we’re asking an employee to a meet our expectations. And we do let them know that if they don’t meet the expectations, there could be consequences such as discipline or separation from employment. But we do it in such a way where we’re saying listen, this is this is your guide rail, use it make good decisions, but you’re you’re not in a contractual relationship.

Policies in your employee handbook are different than your standard operating procedures. And so I really do recommend that employers look at separating them out. So if you have a single document that provides for all policies and then a procedure that runs right after it, I do want to think about separating those out and creating two documents. The employee handbook is something that of course will be looked at on a regular basis, probably annually and updated every year, your procedures will likely need to be updated more often than that. And as your team ebbs and flows with your business needs, you want to be able to update those procedures without having to update your entire handbook.

Avoid using overly technical jargon or legal jargon in your employee handbook also try to avoid using abbreviations. So when you think about your first introduction to an employee handbook being in new employee orientation, we want people to be able to read it with an eye on quick understanding if there is highly technical information that does need to be shared in a policies and let’s make sure that we include a definition, we give some context for that so that it lives within the document.

And again, if you had to answer questions about compliance with a particular rule or regulation that related to your policy, you want those definitions in there if there is something highly technical, so that you are able to answer that charge or claim with an agency or an investigator all in one shot. So we want to include it if we do feel like we need to include something that’s technical, let’s make sure we include all the all the related information to build a foundation of knowledge and understanding.

And then we already talked about, you know, just copying and pasting a handbook from your old employer probably seems like a time saver, but you’re probably going to find a few holes that you fall in along the way. So to make sure that work on it specifically.

Alright, number four employee handbook as a part of a comprehensive program.

So your handbook, of course, is the document. One thing that is something in and of itself, but it should be a part of a practice in your business. So when we look at putting together this employee handbook program, I want you to make sure that you have a good acknowledge acknowledgement, Acknowledgement Form in place, something that the employees have are going to sign off on and say, Yep, I received a copy of my handbook. I was really thankful in the last, let’s say, 10 years that we took out the language that said, I’ve read the employee handbook, because really, we’re going to ask employees to lie about it? Like we’re asking them to lie on day one and sign this acknowledgement. This is the read it when we know they didn’t read it on day one, and they might never read it. So the acknowledgement really says I’ve received a copy, I understand that that’s my responsibility to read it and I know who to go to with questions, right? We want to have a good record keeping system in place for these acknowledgments. So perhaps your payroll company or an HR Information System, like a bamboo HR or something like that, that you use, maybe has some infrastructure in place for electronic acknowledgments events.

I do recommend setting aside some time for an employee handbook orientation for new employees.

And this is probably a realistically a 30 to 45 minute meeting where you go over with your new employee, you’re what I call like the top 10 hot topics. So what are the 10 policies that your employees really need to understand on day one, or in week one? Go over them with them, so that they’re not just trying to navigate it on their own. You should probably think about putting together some training for your leaders, if you have supervisors or other leaders in your business, they should have a separate orientation and training to the handbook so that they feel comfortable and confident using the policies as a stepping stone for conversations about roles and responsibilities. And just like any other topic until we get comfortable talking about it, it can be rather bumpy. And so in order to build their confidence, that’s why we do that type of training.

When you update your employee handbook, you want to roll it out. You want to you know, not make a big deal out of it. But you want people to know that it’s happening and that there is a new handbook that they should visit and become familiar with.

And then in the handbook and within your practice, make sure that there’s a single point person that people can go to if they have questions about policies within the handbook. You just you want them you want in your business to be a person that is really well versed in the policies, somebody who actually is interested in reading through it. And I bet you have one I bet every practice has one person who is kind of an HR person, you know, that sideline at heart. And so they would probably be interested in being the expert with them for you. So those are the tip number four is come up with a whole program to support your employee handbook.

Maureen Werrbach

Alright, so I really love the tips that Nikki gave in this clip, and she has a ton more nuggets on employee handbooks, I know it’s something that we work on. It’s a living document that is always changing as our business is growing and evolving. And she gives some really great feedback on how to structure that manual and how to make sure that your staff is aware of all the policies that are inside the manual. The Exchange Membership has a template of one that Nikki has helped me in my own group practice with and you can use that and go to your HR person. And if you don’t have one, go to Nikki and she can help customize that for you so that it fits your group practices needs.

But one of the things that I see that just feels undervalued or underestimated is really regularly checking in the employee manual and making sure that you’re making updates as your group practice grows.

And so one of the things that I do in my own group practices every January we review them and make sure to go through it as a leadership team and with our HR person to make sure that there isn’t anything new that needs to be added in there either based off of the growth that we’ve had, or based off of new laws or policies that have been put into place in our geographic area. And so I encourage all of you guys to schedule something in your calendars every year, so that you can take a look at your manual and just make sure that you’re updating it. Because like I mentioned before, I really look at this as a living document that is forever going to be edited.

And you really want to make sure that the manual covers everything regarding keeping your employees safe, supporting them, as well as giving them all the information that they need to be able to do their best work and get supported.

That’s really the bottom line of it. And so if you haven’t looked at your employee manual in a while now is a great time to open it up. Take a look at it, talk to an HR person or an employment attorney and just make sure that everything that’s in there is still valid, and there’s nothing that’s missing in there. If you have any tips for things that you have in your manual that either is unique or things that you didn’t think of before talking to an HR person, I’d love to hear it. And if you want more support, please join The Exchange. I’d love to have you in there. I’ll see you later.

Thanks For Listening

Thanks for listening to the group practice exchange podcast. Like what you heard? Give us five stars on whatever platform you’re listening from. Need extra suppor? Join The Exchange, a membership community just for group practice owners with monthly office hours, live webinars, and a library of trainings ready for you to dive into visit www dot members dot the group practice exchange dot com forward slash exchange. See you next week.


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* I am an affiliate for some of the businesses I recommend. These are companies that I use in my own group practice, and make recommendations based off of my experience with them. When you use some of these companies through my links, I receive compensation, which helps me continue to offer great free information on my podcast, blog, Facebook group, and website.

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Meet your host


Maureen Werrbach is a psychotherapist, group practice owner and group practice coach. Learn more about her coaching services here:


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Episodes are structured into categories: coaching sessions where I coach a group practice owner on a specific topic, tips of the day by yours truly, real talk where you get to be a fly on the wall while an established group practice owner and I talk about the highs and lows of ownership, and trainings done by experts in the field.

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* The content of this post is intended to serve as general advice and information. It is not to be taken as legal advice and may not account for all rules and regulations in every jurisdiction. For legal advice, please contact an attorney.

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