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The Benefits of Having a Staff Handbook

Although it is not a legal requirement to have a Staff Handbook many employers do have a Handbook of some sort or other in order to provide guidance to staff and managers.

I have seen handbooks in all formats but typically they tend to encompass a mixture of the following:

  1. Employment policies and procedures covering HR processes;
  2. Rules and codes of conduct; and
  3. Operating procedures.

Whilst there is no reason why you cannot include all of these elements into the same Handbook, we recommend keeping them in separate parts.

For example:

Part 1 – General Rules and Conduct Required.

Part 2 – HR Policies

Part 3 – Operating Procedures

Part 4 – Health & Safety

Aside from the legal minimum requirements (set out below) there is no legal requirement to have a Handbook. However, it certainly would assist with running your business and avoid unnecessary argument or stress later if you have something in writing.

If a dispute were to arise with an employee and you find yourself at the Employment Tribunal, it is helpful to produce a relevant policy and/or procedure in support of your defence. For instance, if you dismiss an employee for sending work customer emails to their own email address, if you have a policy which specifically prohibits this and which states that this is a serious issue that will be dealt with as a disciplinary matter and could result in dismissal, it is going to be easier to justify the reasonableness of your decision to the Employment Tribunal in an unfair dismissal claim.

In addition, having a grievance policy which sets out exactly how a grievance raised by an employee will be dealt with ensures that all involved in the process understand what is expected.

As well as helping to resolve disputes with employees, having a comprehensive Handbook can assist with regards to your liabilities in other areas, such as whistleblowing, bribery and general compliance with relevant laws and regulations in your particular business area.

Many businesses have the intention of creating a handbook, but do not know where to start, or have not updated the handbook for so long, that the prospect of reviewing it becomes too daunting.

Our top tip for getting started and/or updating your handbook, is to get an empty ring binder or folder on your computer and label it staff handbook. Once you have this you can start adding policies and procedures as they arise or when you have time. I would recommend you tackle one policy at a time, rather than trying to create/update an entire handbook in one go.

I do not recommend having the policies in one document, as this can create issues when you need to update the handbook, or when you need to provide specific sections to an employee. For this reason, we suggest creating single policies with an index.

Contrary to popular belief your handbook should not be a contractual document and should be separate from the employee contracts.

I have seen a number of employers who have included their Handbook as an attachment to the employee contract and state clearly that it forms part of the employee’s terms of employment. Whilst this is legally fine it can create unnecessary burden for you as you are then bound to follow the rules and processes in the Handbook to the letter or face a breach of contract claim.

This can be particularly difficult when your contractual handbook contains the disciplinary procedure, and you want to vary the process you follow in a particular case. Also, if you want to change the content of the Handbook it can be more difficult to do so.

The best practice, if you are able, is to have a full Staff Handbook with the three or four parts including all policies, rules and procedures in full, and then have a mini-handbook which summarises the key day to day information that staff will require. This can then be printed and handed to all staff, and at the back of the mini handbook I include an index for the full staff handbook and a note on where staff can access the full handbook.

This way you can summarise the key information that is of most importance on a day-to-day basis and it is in a format that staff are likely to read and keep to hand throughout their employment.

A staff handbook will be a great tool for your business, provided it is kept up to date. I would recommend checking your handbook annually to ensure no changes are required, either due to legal changes or because of operational changes within the business.

With this in mind, I want to make you aware that there are legal changes being implemented in relation to flexible working requests, paternity leave and carers leave, which are due to be implemented on 6 April 2024 (although we are still awaiting confirmation on the exact date). Therefore, I recommend these policies are reviewed and updated prior to the changes coming into force.

We would be happy to create, or review and update, your handbook should you wish. We can discuss your requirements during a free half hour telephone consultation. If this is of interest, please contact us on 01983 897003 and either myself or a member of the team will be happy to assist.

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The information contained in this blog post is provided for guidance and is a snapshot of the law at the time it is written. It is provided for your information only and should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice that it specific to your particular circumstances.

The guidance should not be relied upon in any decision making process. It is strongly recommended that you seek advice before taking action.

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