What is An Employee Handbook?
An employee handbook (also called “staff handbook” or “employee manual”) is a repository containing all the data, rules, and employment policies that ought to be followed within an organisation. In other words, it’s an information hub that employees may have access to in order to learn how to conduct themselves and perform their duties.
This handbook also might contain other relevant details related to the company mission statement, as well as company culture and core values.
An employee handbook is an important tool in HR management, though it also carries legal repercussions requiring the assessment of an employment lawyer. For assistance with your employee handbook and company policies, call us today on 03334149244.
- What is An Employee Handbook?
- Are Employee Handbooks Contracts?
- What Is the Importance of Employee Manuals?
- Is It Mandatory to Create a Staff Handbook in the UK?
- What Information and Policies Are Contained in an Employee Handbook?
- An Explanation of Each Part of the Staff Handbook
- How Should an Employee Handbook Be Written?
- How We Can Help
- Frequently Asked Questions
Are Employee Handbooks Contracts?
Staff handbooks, even though they regulate several aspects of the employment relationship, are non-contractual in nature.
They differ from employment contracts in that they don’t result from consensus. Rather, these handbooks are unilaterally issued by the employer to regulate the day-by-day undertakings in the workplace. However, if they’re annexed to an employment contract, they may be deemed as part of said contract.
Employee handbooks can be modified by the employer on a whim to suit the current needs of the organisation. In that sense, they’re understood as “discretionary” documents.
These handbooks don’t confer any legal rights to employees, and their contents can’t be enforced through an employment tribunal claim. However, employees could object to certain policies in these employee handbooks that go against their contractual rights. They may also make certain terms enforceable (especially on sensitive subjects such as redundancy) if they’re worded in a way that can be interpreted as such.
Some overlaps can be found between the employment contract and the employee handbook. For example, both instruments can contain the company’s disciplinary and grievance procedures, as well as rules regarding sick leave or other similar topics. Changes to some of these key policies touch upon fundamental contractual rights and should be consulted with the affected staff.
What Is the Importance of Employee Manuals?
Employee handbooks are just as important as employment contracts, particularly in large workplaces fraught with complex human resource challenges. A small business, nevertheless, can also benefit from having an employee handbook.
For starters, employee handbooks delineate a framework for consistently handling everyday issues in the workforce. This means that if the handbook is followed to a tee, there should be no risks of discriminatory treatment, with all the legal problems that could ensue.
Moreover, an employee handbook protects employers against any prospective claims by employees, as it shows that the company is not acting arbitrarily when implementing its measures. Since the employee handbook is initially accessible to the employee, they can’t allege that they couldn’t reasonably predict the outcome of a procedure or that they were not given clear instructions on how to carry out their duties.
Finally, employee handbooks supply employers with a useful non-contractual tool to regulate most employment matters without having to seek the employees’ consent (save for specific circumstances). That way, the handbook can address the company’s current needs without unnecessary delays.
Is It Mandatory to Create a Staff Handbook in the UK?
The short answer is that it’s not mandatory. Employers can prescind from this document without fear of infringing UK employment law. Conversely, employee contracts should be put into writing, especially if the employees request them.
Notwithstanding, some of the information normally contained in the employee handbook should be handed out to the employee in writing, such as the disciplinary and grievance procedures, as well as health and safety policies. The staff handbook is a great medium for fulfilling this legal requirement, though you may also attach these texts to the contract itself.
What Information and Policies Are Contained in an Employee Handbook?
Policies usually found in employee handbooks include those regarding:
- Disciplinary and grievance procedures
- Health and Safety
- Holiday, compassionate, parental, paternity, maternity, and sick leaves
- Dress code
- Flexible working
- Equal opportunity
- Data protection
- Drug, alcohol, smoking, and vaping
- Probation period
- Performance management
- Redundancy procedures
- Treatment of company property
- Email and internet
This is not supposed to be an exhaustive list of policies, and, furthermore, not all of these policies would be needed for certain ventures.
Here, you can describe your organisation, its core values, and its company history. This information allows employees to get acquainted with and grow their affinity toward their employer.
In this section, you could cover elemental definitions related to employment. This will give employees little training on the matter and clues on how to understand these terms within the bigger scope of the handbook.
For example, you could elucidate what “equal opportunity policy” means or define the different types of contracts. It’s also the perfect place to explain attendance rules and mechanisms to justify an absence.
Other basic questions that can be approached include the recruitment and selection process for new hires, background checks, referrals, etc.
Let’s go over some of these points:
- Employment contract types: Define what full-time and part-time employees are, as well as who’s an apprentice, intern, or zero-hours employee, among other categories.
- Attendance: Set out a list of rules for employees who can’t make it to work (either at all or on time) and need ways to excuse their absence or tardiness. It should also contain a list of reasons that are not considered valid excuses (e.g., waking up late, unapproved holidays, bad but foreseeable weather conditions, etc.).
- Equal opportunity: Reinstate your duty to foster diversity and equality within the workplace, as well as to not discriminate against anyone due to protected characteristics such as gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, medical history, or similar.
- Recruitment: Unpack the recruitment and onboarding process for new hires, including how you and your managers will handle pre-employment checks and referrals or referral rewards (if any).
This section regulates everything workplace-related. It encompasses topics from health and safety to anti-harassment policies, all in an attempt to create a pleasant working environment. This segment also deals with confidentiality and data protection.
Let’s briefly explain some of these mentions:
- Confidentiality and data protection: Inform employees about all the specific regulations that deal with these subjects and explain how you handle sensitive information in accordance with existing laws.
- Workplace safety and health: Explicate the different measures taken to comply with health and safety rules and guarantee protection in the event of an emergency.
- Anti-harassment policies: Give a short definition of harassment and emphasise your commitment to battling harassment and violence inside the workplace.
Code of Conduct
This part of the employee handbook touches upon employee behaviour and how they should approach customers, stakeholders, colleagues, and partners. It covers matters such as dress code, employee relationships, visitors, usage of digital services, cyber security concerns, conflicts of interest, and many others.
Let’s explain these elements in a bit more detail:
- Dress code: Lay out what employees can and cannot wear while carrying out their work. If there are uniforms, you should specify how these uniforms should be worn. You could also define terms such as “formal attire” whenever applicable.
- Conflict of interest: If, in the exercise of their duties, employees are met with situations that would be constituent of a conflict of interest, you should disclose how they should tackle them. Explain in more detail what could constitute a conflict of interest and the penalties for breaking company rules.
- Employee relationships: Elaborate on how employees should conduct themselves when dating or becoming close friends with each other so that they don’t display unprofessional behaviour in front of workmates, customers, or partners.
- Visitors: Expound on all the measures that ought to be taken to reassure that data and company property are not exposed when bringing visitors to the workplace.
- Employment of relatives: Give some insight into the working relationships allowed between relatives in the company. That way, you can avoid any charges of nepotism.
- Internet usage and cyber security: Explain how employees should utilise the company’s internet data, cell phones, corporate email, and social media. You may always give some leeway to employees while consistently reminding them to use these tools responsibly and without damaging the company’s image.
- Drug, alcohol, smoking, and vaping: You should warn employees about the legal consequences of consuming illicit substances inside the workplace and misusing alcohol to the detriment of others. Likewise, indicate outdoor spaces for smoking and vaping (if any).
Performance, Development, and Compensation
In this section, you’ll be giving information on how you pay and reward employees for their performance, as well as how you encourage their development. This should be the perfect opportunity to boost their morale.
These are some of the subjects you may bring up here:
- Employee training: Training shouldn’t just concern new employees but also those old employees who want to acquire new skills or hone the ones they already have. This would encourage many employees to remain in the company and show commitment to it.
- Performance management: Employees should get the chance to know how their work would be evaluated. This section also instructs managers on how to do performance reviews.
- Payslips and compensation: This covers paydays for monthly or weekly salaries, as well as how overtime work is dealt with.
- Promotions: Provide employees with information on how they could get promoted to higher positions, the requisites, and the review process.
Bonuses and Other Benefits
Apart from rewards obtained through their labour, you can also give detailed information about the benefits and perks that your company offers them.
These can be:
- Health benefits: They could go from private health insurance to wellness programs and even gym membership.
- Injury: If the employee gets injured at work, give an overview of the compensations offered.
- Flexible work: With new possibilities to work from home, you should establish certain conditions and rules for remote working that involve cybersecurity concerns and working hours. Also, you can remind those that have fulfilled the 26-week requirement to request flexible working hours.
- Reimbursements: The expenses covered by the company are listed here, along with the procedure for claiming reimbursement.
- Company mobiliary: Delineate rules on how employees should treat the equipment (laptops, phones, tablets, etc.) and cars placed under their custody. Additionally, define how you’ll compensate for expenses from their usage.
- Parking spaces: You may set up any guidelines regarding free parking spaces offered and how they’ll be allocated, particularly in the case of limited slots.
Working Hours and Leaves
Employees would be very interested to know how their working and free time will be distributed. You would want to address the following points:
- Working hours and free time: Recall the working hours established by the company for all the different categories of employment and the distribution of leisure hours. This would include meals and breaks that employees may take in between.
- Parental, maternity, and paternity leaves: Stipulate the company’s requirements for obtaining leaves when begetting/adopting children, as well as for tending to parental responsibilities (such as assisting with school meetings or paediatrician appointments, among others).
- Sick leave: Remind employees of their right to request sick leave and statutory sick pay (SSP) and bring to memory the requirements for obtaining sick leave for more than seven days.
- Bereavement leave: UK employment law doesn’t officially recognise any right to PAID bereavement (death of a loved one) leave, save when it concerns agricultural employees or the death of a child. Nonetheless, it’s always good practice to approve it. Set out the prerequisites for obtaining said leave.
- Holidays: Make a list of all the holidays that the company observes and compensations that would be paid if the company summons employees to work on those days.
Grievances, Disciplinary Actions, and Contract Termination
This segment outlines all aspects linked to the resolution of employment conflicts and termination of the employment relationship.
A complete employee handbook template would enclose the following topics:
- Disciplinary actions: Spotlight the types of disciplinary actions that may be issued (to wit: Written warnings and dismissal), as well as the consequences of each one.
- Disciplinary procedure: This is an extremely important section that should unveil all the steps leading to disciplinary action and the rights that employees maintain during a disciplinary procedure. This procedure should be in line with the ACAS Code of Practice, though you can devise your own procedure.
- Grievance: You’d have to point out the employees’ right to raise formal and informal grievances, as well as your duty to hear said grievances and resolve them accordingly.
- Notice period: If the employee decides to resign or is ousted, a notice period is normally given. This notice period is most probably already referenced in the employment contracts, but you can set a reminder here. Also, you can allude to the possibility of offering payment in lieu of notice (PILON).
- Settlement Agreements: Give a brief notice on the possibility of offering or being offered a settlement agreement to end a dispute at any stage.
Disclaimers and Concluding Remarks
Perhaps this is the best chance to let employees know about the non-contractual nature of this employee handbook, as well as to give other disclaimers, such as the possibility of future revisions of the handbook, at your discretion.
Also, you can add some motivational statements for your employees and show appreciation for the important contributions they make to the company.
Lastly, ask the employees to acknowledge that they have received and read the employee handbook.
How Should an Employee Handbook Be Written?
You should avoid using technicalities, ambiguities, and convoluted phrasing when redacting these employee handbooks. They ought to be easily understood by employees from all backgrounds and educational levels.
Furthermore, try to utilise a format that is easily accessible to all employees. Normally, these handbooks would be sent to employees in PDF format, as they can easily be sent via email and other digital means.
How We Can Help
Our commitment is to provide the best means to improve your employment relationships. A healthy working environment ensures a profitable business, but it all begins by crafting a comprehensive company policy and employee manual that answers every possible question and reflects your company values.
Our employment lawyers have ample knowledge and experience on the subject of employee handbooks and have worked closely with HR consultants and departments in their composition, providing the legal framework necessary to make them valid in the context of a working relationship.
Contact us at 03334149244 to find out more about the services we provide and arrange an appointment with us. You can also contact us via the contact form or live chat.
Employee handbook templates are handy at times, but they miss the nuances and employment characteristics proper to many types of businesses. By receiving further guidance from a competent legal team, you’ll be effectively circumventing many possible legal controversies later on.
In reality, small businesses benefit from having an all-encompassing employee handbook just as much as a medium-sized or big business would, especially when considering their growth potential. Nevertheless, as stated before, you’re not legally obliged to have one.
You must always notify your employees whenever you make changes to the terms contained in the employee handbook, even if these changes don’t require their consent. This is extremely important since the failure to notify could render moot any action taken in accordance with the modified handbook, and you could consequently face possible legal actions.