A well drafted bespoke staff handbook can be a very positive thing in the employer/employee relationship.
It is not a legal requirement, but it is a really good idea to have a staff handbook.
What is a Staff Handbook?
A staff handbook (also known as an office manual, employee manual, and others!) is a collection of information, policies, and procedures about your business, and employees.
Employers do have to publish the disciplinary procedure that would apply to their employees, and notify employees of how they can complain or raise a grievance. Employee Handbooks help everyone – employer and employee – understand their rights and responsibilities to each other, and provide a reference point when problems arise.
What do you include in an Employee Handbook?
As mentioned above, employers have to tell employees about the disciplinary and grievance procedures that apply to them. And so, these will be (shoud be) included in the office manual. There are good reasons to publish policies and procedures about a wide range of other matters. By way of example, employers might include policies and procedures on:
What shouldn’t be included in an Employee Handbook?
This is a tricky one. In the distant past, a redundancy policy and/or lay-off and short time working policies were fairly common. But now, employers are unlikely to want a policy on what happens if they need to make redundancies, because they’ll want maximum flexibility to set a procedure for each specific case.
In general, it’s best to include as all potentially relevant policies, so the employer can say that they’ve told employees what the implications may be of certain actions or (mis)conduct. For instance, if you post a rant on social media about having had a bad day, and it’s found on your employer’s internet search for use of its company name or branding, the social media and disciplinary policies should tell the employer what to do about it and warn you about what’s likely to happen.
Should a Staff Handbook be contractual?
No, handbooks shouldn’t form part of the contract of employment. There are various reasons for this, and we’d explain why it’s best in a particular case as part of our work for you.
How often should a Staff Handbook be reviewed?
You should review a staff handbook at least as often as any legislation changes, and when anything significant changes within the business. As a minimum, it’s worth checking and updating a handbook every 2 or 3 years.
This is because employment law is notorious for being changed and updated regularly – at the time of writing this blog, for instance, we’re due for updates to the flexible working regime later in 2024, so employers should be getting ready for the changes by updating their flexible working policies.
So, while on the one hand, the staff handbook should be the go-to reference guide for management and staff and have as much longevity as possible, some policies will require regular updates or at least a health check to pick up on any changes. You might name the Data Protection Officer in the GDPR policy – what if that individual leaves? What if the business moves offices and contact details change? These things can easily be missed.
Why should I ask a lawyer to prepare a staff handbook – can I use an online template handbook?
It can be harder for small businesses to keep on top of developments in employment law without an in-house HR expert. When money is tight it can be a hard sell to invest a not insignificant sum in preparing a document that may not be daily reading.
But, when things go awry, or when someone isn’t behaving as they should, or you need a quick bit of guidance on a random topic, having that handbook there is invaluable.
Asking an outside lawyer to help health-check an existing handbook or prepare a new one is money well spent (yes, we would say that wouldn’t we!). We’d tailor the handbook to your business (unlike a cookie-cutter online template), and ensure it makes sense for you, including future-proofing it as far as we can.
Guide to Employee Handbook
We hope you found this free legal guide helpful. Please remember that it is just that – a guide. It should NOT be taken as legal advice specific to you or your business. That’s where our expert employment lawyers come in! So, if you’d like help, drop us a line at employment@Qlaw.co.uk or call 03300 020 863 and we’ll arrange a time to talk things through.