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Staff handbooks, policies and procedures

What is a staff handbook?

A staff handbook (also often called an employee handbook or an employee manual) is intended to keep all of an employer’s policies and procedures in one place. A staff handbook should be kept somewhere that’s accessible to all staff, and ideally staff should be given training on it from time to time.

What are HR policies and procedures?

An employer should have a number of written policies and procedures in place which set out rules and guidance on their employees’ employment rights and duties. They should be reviewed and updated regularly and shared with all staff each time this happens. In case of a disagreement later down the line, it’s important that an employer can show that the employee has had access to these policies.

Do policies and procedures form part of an employee’s employment contract?

Sometimes they can. However, it’s advisable that policies and procedures state that they’re non-contractual. This will make them easier to update and amend without a suggestion that an employer is breaching an employee’s contract.

Why is it important to have written policies?

It is a legal requirement that some information must be given to new employees in a written statement or in their employment contract, such as information about what types of leave and benefits are available to them and what the employer’s disciplinary and grievance procedures are. A staff handbook can fulfil this legal requirement if it is provided to new employees on or before day 1 of their employment. It is sensible to provide a copy of it, or access to it, during the induction process.

In addition, having written company policies and procedures in a staff handbook will also help set the boundaries of the employment relationship and make sure that all staff are clear on what their employment rights are and what rules they need to follow. This should help avoid workplace disputes further down the line.

Why is it important to have written policies?

It is a legal requirement that some information must be given to new employees in a written statement or in their employment contract, such as information about what types of leave and benefits are available to them and what the employer’s disciplinary and grievance procedures are. A staff handbook can fulfil this legal requirement if it is provided to new employees on or before day 1 of their employment. It is sensible to provide a copy of it, or access to it, during the induction process.

In addition, having written company policies and procedures in a staff handbook will also help set the boundaries of the employment relationship and make sure that all staff are clear on what their employment rights are and what rules they need to follow. This should help avoid workplace disputes further down the line.

What about written procedures?

There are also formal procedures that employers will sometimes need to follow with their employees. These become particularly important when a process might lead to the dismissal of an employee, or when a dispute arises. For example, if an Employment Tribunal claim is brought by an employee, an employer will be expected to show that it followed a proper procedure with its employee before making any decisions. It helps hugely if this procedure is set out in writing, because both the employer and employee will then know what they can and can’t do during the formal process.

What types of written policies should an employer have in employee handbooks?

Some employment policies are essential to protect an employer from legal liability if things go wrong. These include workplace policies dealing with:

  • Anti-bribery and anti-tax evasion: in order to comply with the Bribery Act 2010 and the Criminal Finances Act 2017, an employer should set out their values on preventing bribery, corruption and tax evasion and make sure that all employees (including existing employees as well as new hires) are asked to read and comply with them.
  • Health and safety: a written health and safety policy should set out details of what employees’ health and safety responsibilities are, what first aid and other equipment is available, and what processes should be followed to deal with accidents and emergencies.
  • Equality, diversity and anti-harassment: having consistent policies which set out an employer’s stance against discrimination and harassment, and what rights employees have and how they must behave towards each other, can help an employer to defend any discrimination claims which might be brought against them.
  • Whistleblowing: employees have strong legal protection if they “blow the whistle” about any wrongdoing they discover in the workplace, and can bring Employment Tribunal claims if they are victimised for doing so. A Whistleblowing Policy should set out what protection employees must be given in these circumstances.
  • Data protection: it’s essential to have both a “privacy notice” which sets out how employees’ personal data will be handled, and a data protection policy which sets out the rules for employees who deal with personal data belonging to customers or other employees.

What other key policies are advisable to have in an employee handbook?

As well as those which help an employer to comply with legal requirements, other types of policies are also strongly advisable in order to meet good HR practices and to help your business run smoothly. These include workplace policies covering:

  • Family leave (which should include maternity, paternity, shared parental, bereavement, and adoption leave, time off for emergency dependents, and ordinary parental leave)
  • Sickness absence
  • Holidays
  • Stress at work
  • Homeworking, hybrid working or agile working
  • Use of IT systems and company property
  • Environment and sustainability
  • Use of social media
  • Redundancy and retirement
  • Work related expenses

What types of written procedures should an employer have?

Some HR processes need to be carried out formally and in accordance with a set procedure, in order to ensure compliance with employment law. The most important of these formal procedures are:

  • Disciplinary procedures: setting out how an employer will investigate, hear and deal with disciplinary cases when an employee is suspected of misconduct or gross misconduct. A disciplinary procedure is often combined with a disciplinary policy or code of conduct, setting out the company’s rules and standards. A clear and reasonable disciplinary process can go a long way to helping an employer avoid any claims of unfair dismissal if things go wrong.
  • Grievance procedure: setting out how an employer will look into and resolve complaints fairly and reasonably when an employee has cause to raise a grievance. This is often combined with a grievance policy.
  • Flexible working procedure: setting out the process an employer needs to follow when an employee makes a flexible working request.

Can an employer make changes to a staff handbook?

As long as a staff handbook doesn’t form part of the employment contract of its existing employees, the employer can make changes to it without needing to obtain its employees’ consent. However, contractual policies will require the employer to consult with employees and obtain their agreement to the changes, in order to avoid any breach of contract claim.

Whether the staff handbook is a contractual document or not, the employer should regularly inform employees of any changes to its policies to ensure that the employees understand them and are familiar with what employment policies the business has in place.

How can we help?

Our employment solicitors and HR specialists are experienced at drafting employee handbooks and individual policies or procedures, to ensure that they are legally compliant and reflect good practice in HR terms. We also regularly review existing policies or procedures in order to update them and are experienced in tailoring employee handbooks to reflect the needs of an organisation or business.

If you need further guidance on employee handbooks, policies and procedures, or if you would like your own employee handbook to be reviewed by an employment lawyer or HR professional, please contact a member of our employment law team in confidence here or on 02920 829 100 for a free initial call to see how they can help.


To speak to one of our experts today, please contact us on 02920 829 100 or by using our Contact Us form for a free initial chat to see how we can help.

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