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Employment Law Services — Employers

Staff handbooks — a comprehensive guide

Most employers will be aware that it is a legal requirement to give all employees a written statement of particulars of employment, but do you also need a staff handbook? What are the benefits of having an employee handbook, what should you include in it and how should it be introduced?

  • Advantages of having a staff handbook

      Although it may seem excessive in a small business, having a staff handbook can be very useful. It gives you an opportunity to set out in detail what you expect from your staff.  It gives you a means of passing on to employees important information about the organisation and how it works on a day-to-day basis. It can also serve as guidance for your managers on how the handle common workplace issues whilst reducing the risk of claims. Including this information in the contract of employment would make the document far too long. It is also a handy place to keep forms for sickness self-certification, requesting holidays, claiming expenses and so on.

      The handbook can either be printed and a copy given to each employee or it can be put on your intranet so that all staff can access it. Having it available electronically means that it is easier and cheaper to update it, as you do not have to print a new set of copies every time you change it but you need to ensure your staff are adequately notified of any changes you introduce.

  • What you should include

      There are some policies and procedures that you have to give employees by law and a staff handbook is a good place to put them, they include your:

      • Health and safety policy;

      • Disciplinary rules and procedure; and

      • Grievance procedure

      Other policies that are recommended but are not required by law might cover:

      • Equal opportunities

      • Anti-harassment and bullying

      • Expenses

      • Data protection

      • Social media

      • Information and communications systems

      • Sickness absence

      • Whistleblowing

      • Anti-corruption and bribery

      • Capability procedure

      • Family leave  (maternity, paternity, adoption, parental leave and time off for dependants)

      • Compassionate and bereavement leave

      • Flexible working

      Lastly, some policies are optional and you can include them if you think they will be useful.  Examples of these include policies on:

      • Dress code
      • Company cars
      • Adverse weather and travel disruption
      • Substance misuse
      • Smoking
      • Stress management
      • Home-working
      • Bringing your own devices to work
      • Career breaks
      • Time off for training
      • Time off for public duties
      • Redundancy
      • Retirement

      There may be other policies and procedures particular to your organisation that you would like to include as well. If you pay bonus or commission having a written scheme rules is also advisable.

  • Should the handbook be part of the contract?

      It can make it easier to enforce if the handbook is incorporated into the contract of employment. However, if the handbook is described as being part of the contract, this means that you are also bound by it and an employee could claim breach of contract or resign and claim constructive dismissal if you do not follow it. So you could be in difficulties if, for example, you missed out a step in your grievance procedure. In addition, you would need agreement from each employee before you made any changes to any contractual terms in a staff handbook.

      The best approach is to make the handbook non-contractual but to spell out in the disciplinary procedure and the relevant policies where disciplinary action can be taken.  You can then enforce certain standards of behaviour but update or change the handbook without any complications.

  • How to introduce it

      If you recognise a trade union or have employee representatives in place, such as a works council or a staff association, best practice would be to consult with them over the contents of the handbook. This is unlikely to be contentious but their feedback will usually be helpful and will make it easier to introduce the handbook.

      If the handbook does not form part of the contract of employment, you do not need staff to sign it to show that they accept it. You should keep proof that you have given a hard copy to everyone or that everyone has access to it, in case this is needed in the future.

      Lastly, it is important to keep the handbook up to date and we would recommend reviewing it once a year and updating it to take account of changes in the law.