The Importance of an Employee Handbook

Why should your business have an employee handbook?

In the HR Wise January blog, the focus was on the Employment Contract. Many employers choose to support their contract of employment with an employee handbook. Although not explicitly required by law, having an employee handbook is something a good number of employers, whether  large  or small, adopt as a matter of course. Drafted properly, handbooks can form a useful tool for the promotion of a healthy workplace and create a framework for positive working relationships.

Where the employment contract provides the specifics for an individual employee, the handbook provides details that are relevant to every employee, regardless of their role in the company. It is for that reason that handbooks and contracts will often state that the contract will supersede the handbook where expressly stated in an individual’s letter of appointment or contract of employment, to recognise any personalised arrangement.

An employee handbook is helpful in that it can bring together all of your relevant policies and procedures into one document which can then provide a useful reference point for managers and employees. An employee handbook provides a company with the opportunity to define in words the company culture, vision, values, and mission and describe the types of behaviours the company expects from their employees. The handbook can be used to remind employees of all the company benefits and entitlements which the company has chosen to invest in and provide a brief company history and other interesting information.

A good handbook will be comprehensive but balanced.  Ensuring your handbook is easy to use and accessible is important or employees and managers may be put off from referring to it. However, producing a handbook is not a once only activity, a handbook is a living document which must be maintained to ensure it continues to reinforce your strategy and practices and to ensure it reflects any changes to your policies and procedures.

Contractual or Non-contractual?

  • A handbook can be classed as part of the employment contract however, if a handbook is expressed to be contractual, it will be treated as though all of its policies were included within the employee’s contract, so the employee will be strictly bound by them and if the employer fails to adhere to its own policy, it may be liable for breach of contract, opening the door for constructive dismissal claims.
  • A non-contractual handbook allows for more flexibility – policies can be altered and changed, within reason, without requiring explicit employee consent, and to quickly accommodate any change in the law. Your handbook should explicitly state whether it is or is not contractual (or in some cases which policies are, or are not, contractual).

Employers can use the policies in an employee handbook to provide guidance on the ethical and legal treatment of employees. A handbook should provide direction for employees planning annual or parental leave, reporting sickness, expectations of conduct etc., explaining exactly how the company will deal with an issue and what an employee can expect.

A handbook is a useful tool for orienting new members of staff. Many employers use the handbook to help new members of staff familiarise themselves with the company. An employee handbook can  cover key policies areas including:

  • Expectations of staff – raising grievances, facing disciplinary procedures and behavioural standards.
  • Avoiding Conflict of Interest – Anti-corruption/bribery/tax evasion – employers have a duty to take reasonable steps to prevent these offences.
  • Valuing Diversity & Dignity at Work – it’s vital to make sure a commitment to equal opportunities is stated clearly in the handbook, not only to promote a positive working environment but also because employers can be liable and vicariously liable for discrimination against employees (or even prospective employees).
  • Leave & Absence Arrangements – Annual leave, sickness absence, maternity, paternity, parental, shared parental and adoption leave – ensure your employees are aware of the different leave options and what they are entitled to.
  • Health and Safety – employers with more than five employees have a statutory duty to create a written statement of health and safety policies and to bring this to the attention of employees.
  • Enabling performance at work – induction, probationary support, appraisal and where an individual is unable to fulfil their role in spite of support, capability procedure.
  • Protection of business interests – for example, where intellectual property applies.
  • Leaving employment – retirement, resignation and processes which apply when an employee leaves the company.

The employee handbook helps to ensure employees understand what is acceptable and what is expected, if key policies and procedures are not expressly stated, it can lead to potential conflict, for example, your social media policy or data protection policies. For that reason, we would advise you ask your employees to sign and acknowledge that  they have reviewed the handbook and have understood and agreed to follow the polices.

To summarise, an employee handbook provides a useful tool for maintaining an open and transparent relationship between employees and management.

The HR Wise package provides a legally compliant employment contract and an employee handbook that is comprehensive and easy to digest. This can support your company to  affirm company policies and procedures and demonstrate “reasonable care” towards your employees.  We will ensure your handbook is up to date, and that it reflects any legislative changes thereby remaining compliant with the law.  The handbook we provide is instantly accessible online, through the HR Wise portal, saving unnecessary printing costs and ensuring your managers and employees are always able to refer to the current version.

Please get in touch if you would like to enjoy affordable peace of mind in this respect.

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