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Writing a staff handbook

Creating a staff handbook is often one of the key pieces of work carried out by HR staff members, and where necessary and when concerns arise, policies can be drafted by solicitors to ensure they are fair and within the law. This allows flexibility for you to be able to vary and amend them where necessary without breaching certain employment rights.  

What is a Staff Handbook?

This can be a contractual or non-contractual document, which contains a company’s policies, practices and procedures and gives further guidance where a contract of employment or other employment document may be brief. It is advisable to seek legal advice when first drafting a staff handbook, so that your business’ specific requirements can be covered effectively with the right policies to cover your specific working environment. It is also important to remember that a ‘staff handbook’ is not just an employee handbook and so policies can be drafted to specifically refer to employees or other staff (such as workers, apprentices etc) as appropriate.

Why create a Staff Handbook?

A staff handbook allows an employer to communicate all its policies, practices and procedures clearly in one place. This document enables an employer to get across not only the basic terms of agreement between employer and staff member, but also the history, culture and values of the business and gives the employer and staff member a clearer vision of what is expected from both parties, without having to include all of that detail in an employment contract. Having a staff handbook can make it easier for an employee to understand company policies on certain aspects and timeframes involved in certain company procedures. Employers generally prefer a non-contractual staff handbook as it is flexible and can be updated easily with any required changes without agreement from all the staff, and not sticking to a policy will not lead to successful breach of contract claims against the company- so long as the policies have not become contractual through express or implied incorporation. If you are unsure about whether your policies are contractual or non- contractual, please contact our specialist employment law solicitors.

Is a Staff Handbook a legal requirement?

No. There is a requirement to provide employees with a section 1 statement or employment contract containing certain key employment details relating to working hours, pay and holiday, amongst other matters. If you would like assistance in drafting an employment contract, see our guide to Writing an Employment Contract. There is also a requirement to provide a written grievance and disciplinary procedure and a written Health and Safety policy if you have five or more employees, but there is no requirement for a staff handbook or any further company policies, these are optional and advisable in order to meet the obligation of employers to make employees aware of all company policies; as it is easy to have all of the policies in one place. Employers would be wise to ensure that they have written evidence that all employees have received a copy of the staff handbook and of correspondence sent to employees relating to any updates.

How Do I write an employee handbook? What should I include?

An employee handbook should be in writing and once drafted circulated around the business and all employees should be told how they can access the original and any updated versions of the staff handbook. 

Typically an employee handbook should be clearly written in language accessible to all staff members and should include the following:

Introduction - a brief description as to what the staff handbook is for, how to use it and how, when and by whom it will be updated.

Holiday entitlement - this policy might include how holiday is accrued, carried over, calculated, dealt with on termination of employment, booked and when annual leave must be taken if an employer has specific requirements.  This policy may also discuss the interaction between holiday leave and sickness absence.

Sickness absence - terms and conditions relating to sickness or injury must be given to the employee in writing and is generally covered in the section 1 statement or contract of employment. However, further detail can be provided in this type of policy, which might include how to report absence, what evidence is required by an employer for company sick pay or SSP to be paid and how that pay is calculated. It is advisable for an employer to also cover the process where there is longer term or frequent absences for incapacity.

Disciplinary and Capability procedures - Again, disciplinary rules and procedures are required to be provided in writing and should include details about who will deal with disciplinaries, meetings, time scales, decisions and appeals. Employers must ensure that their disciplinary procedures are fully compliant with the ACAS Code of practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures (ACAS Code) and that they best follow the ACAS Guidance on the ACAS Code. This means that a good disciplinary procedure should be clear, set out in writing, means that any issues can be dealt with quickly and confidentially and based on fairness and non-discrimination.

Grievance procedure - As with the disciplinary procedure, all employers must have a written grievance procedure and this should comply with the ACAS Code and guidance. As with the disciplinary procedure above, if the minimum standards of good practice for employers and employees in relation to grievances set out in the ACAS Code are not followed, there is potential if the employee's grievance leads to a successful tribunal claim, the tribunal may penalise either party for unreasonably failing to follow the Acas Code by increasing or reducing the employee's compensation by up to 25%. If possible, it is a good idea to involve employees (and where appropriate Trade Union Representative) in the development and updating of the grievance procedure to ensure that employees are in agreement that the process is fair. The minimum required in a written grievance procedure is: details of the person to whom the grievance should be submitted; how to submit a grievance; and what steps will be followed during the grievance procedure.

Anti-harassment and bullying policy - an employer must ensure that it is doing all it can to protect its staff from harassment in the workplace to avoid claims under the Equality Act 2010, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and for breach of contract by breaching mutual trust and confidence and not providing a safe and suitable working environment. A well drafted anti-harassment and bullying policy can demonstrate that an employer does recognise this as an important issue and is trying to eradicate or at least minimise this to the best of its ability.

Health and safety - This should fulfil all statutory and common law duties held by employers towards its employees. If you are unsure of these, please contact our employment law solicitors who can draft the correct health and safety policy for your business. If an employer has five or more staff, it is legally obliged to have a written health and safety statement or policy which it must bring to the attention of its staff, stating its general health and safety policy and how the arrangements under that policy are carried out. Even if an employer has fewer than five people in its workforce and so is not legally required to have a written health and safety policy statement, it is advisable for an employer to have such a policy for employers and staff to be clear of what is required and so to improve health and safety in the workplace.

Maternity/paternity/adoption/parental policies – it is advisable to have clear, written policies relating to maternity leave and pay as well as antenatal appointments, paternity leave and pay, adoption leave and pay and shared parental leave and pay (in the case of birth or adoption). Further, policies relating to parental leave or time off for dependents can be helpful, so that employers and staff are clear of what is required and can avoid liability under the Equality Act 2010 if fair and non-discriminatory policies are followed correctly.

Flexible working and home working policy - employers should have a policy giving effect to the statutory flexible working scheme, which allows employees the right to make a written request to change their existing working arrangements. The employer must deal with such a request in a ‘reasonable manner’ and to notify the employee of its decision within the ‘decision period’ (three months, which can be extended if the employer and employee agree). The employer and employee will then discuss the request, unless the employer is able to accept the request without a meeting. The employer may then accept the request, propose an alternative form of flexible working or reject it with reasons, subject to a right of appeal. A well drafted flexible working policy which is followed correctly can assist with lessening the likelihood of discrimination claims against an employer.

Employers may also wish to think about including policies on the following:

  1. Social media
  2. IT and communications systems
  3. AI and its use within the business
  4. Dress code and appearance at work
  5. Data protection
  6. Performance and appraisals
  7. Equal opportunities
  8. Expenses and other benefits such as bonuses, health insurance and company car policies
  9. Anti-corruption and anti-bribery
  10. Compassionate leave policy
  11. Whistleblowing
  12. Time off for public duties

How often should a Staff Handbook be updated?

The answer to this question will be dependent on the type of business involved, what has happened in employment law and whether the business has had issues in any particular area of the business relating to employees. However, generally speaking, an employer should review its staff handbook every 6 months or every 12 months at the most. If you feel that your staff handbook is in need of review or updating, please do contact us for assistance.

What steps should I take to implement and enforce the policies outlined in the handbook?

Having a staff handbook with up-to-date and comprehensive policies is a great start, but how do you ensure that your staff abide by the policies and procedures? Communication about the policies and ensuring that there is consistent messaging throughout the various policies in your handbook and the wider culture of the business is helpful.

If employees are made aware of your policies when they commence employment and have the opportunity to ask questions and receive training during their induction or probation period, this can be helpful in ensuring there is a clear understanding from the outset. It is important to also keep employees updated with changes to the policies in your staff handbook and make the document accessible so that employees know where to find and refer to it. Training should be ongoing as changes are made to keep the policies and procedures fresh in the minds of employees and to give them practical application. Regular reminders also reduce the chances of employees claiming they were not aware of a policy.

Compliance with your company policies is likely to be higher if you have a specific contact who is approachable and can be easily reached by staff if they have questions about policies. Further, if staff are consulted and contribute to the drafting of policies they are likely to have a greater understanding and desire to make the policies work whether this be by modifying their own behaviours or encouraging other staff to do so.

If policies are not being followed correctly you will need to ensure that you have a well-drafted disciplinary policy, as if this policy is implemented effectively staff will face appropriate disciplinary consequences where they are not complying with other company policies.

To ensure that all the points specific to your business are fully covered our employment solicitors can discuss your business and then draft and explain to you the policies in the staff handbook and their operation.

About our expert

Sally Gwilliam

Sally Gwilliam

Employment Partner
Sally joined the employment team in August 2021 as a senior employment solicitor and became a partner in October 2023. Sally qualified in 2004 at international law firm DLA Piper, and worked there for a further 11 years. There she gained excellent skills and experience in employment law working for medium and large businesses across multiple jurisdictions and on complex legal and strategic issues. Since 2015, Sally has worked for two smaller legal businesses where her client base changed to SMEs giving her a fantastic understanding of the differing needs and priorities of any size of business and in a wide range of sectors.

What next?

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