Staff handbooks

Why your company needs a staff handbook

The importance of a clear, concise staff handbook in any business, small or large, cannot be underestimated.

Handbooks should be designed to answer employees’ questions on their employer’s procedures and to avoid time-consuming case-by-case practice design. For example, if an employer has a redundancy policy in its handbook, it will not be under pressure to develop a policy hastily when redundancies are being made. In addition, handbooks help to avoid the risk of having different rules for different employees.

It’s good practice to issue all of your employees with a handbook at the start of their employment and ask them to confirm that they have read and understood it. You can amend policies within the handbook at any time and my advice would be to send your staff some kind of notification when an update has been made. A lot of businesses have an annual policy review which would be a good time to notify staff of any changes.

Employee handbooks should communicate how issues such as harassment, discrimination, absence, family-friendly rights and other HR matters are dealt with. They can be used to inform employees about performance expectations, and provide good evidence that employees are aware that certain conduct can result in disciplinary action or dismissal. Employee handbooks can help employers to prove that they have acted fairly in accordance with set policies and procedures and can be invaluable for employers facing a tribunal claim.

What’s required by law?

If an employer has five or more employees, a written health and safety policy is mandatory. This policy deals with a number of health and safety workplace issues, including accident reporting and what to do in case of a fire. The policy must set out the employer’s commitment to reduce risks and observe legal duties relevant to the workplace and its business. It will also set out what employees’ duties are in relation to health and safety and how they can meet these obligations.

The written statement of employment which employers must give their employees as a matter of law (generally as part of the employment contract should either contain or refer to disciplinary rules and procedures. Many employers will create a separate disciplinary procedure to deal with these critical issues which should take account of the ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures. Hand in hand with this often goes a grievance procedure which helps to demonstrate your credentials as a fair employer.

An equal opportunities policy should set out your commitment to equal opportunities in matters such as recruitment. It must comply with the Equality Act 2010 and relevant European legislation.

Employers should consider having a data protection and data security policy in place, to cover how confidential information is stored and its obligations under the Data Protection Act 1998.

A sickness policy helps you deal with sickness absence among your staff, including sickness reporting, prolonged absence and sick pay.

Should a staff handbook outline the use of telephones, email and the internet?

It’s essential for you, as an employer, to outline the extent to which you will tolerate the use of the telephone, email and internet for personal use. By outlining this, it not only reduces the likelihood of employees overusing the telephone, email and internet, but also if they do abuse the system, you are in a stronger position to take disciplinary action against the employee because you can point to a clear procedure in your company’s handbook which has been violated.

We understand that no two businesses are the same, so having a staff handbook tailored to your specific requirements and needs is essential. Prevention is better than cure, so give us a call today and we can arrange a no-obligation review of where you could be putting your business under unnecessary risk.