Do I need a Staff Handbook?

Having a staff handbook has many benefits, as this article will show.

Often businesses start new employees by way of having an induction process in place and then during these important first weeks they get bombarded with information. As well as having to learn their own job role, your new member of staff may be learning a new system, the company’s policies and procedures, remembering their new colleagues and their job roles.

It is great that an induction process is in place, but how realistic is it for employees to hold all this information in their heads? Having a staff handbook could be the answer. Staff can use the handbook to refer to whenever they need clarity or need to double check the company’s approach to differing policies without the stress of second guessing what they should be doing.

A staff handbook is also known as an Employee Handbook. However, many organisations employ staff on fixed term or temporary contracts; they are known as ‘workers’.  As the handbook also relates to them, it is therefore better to call it a staff handbook.

 The Legal Position

Unlike a contract of employment, there is no legal requirement to have a staff handbook. It is entirely your decision on whether your business would benefit from having a staff handbook.

What is a Staff Handbook?

A staff handbook is a collection of the company’s policies, procedures and practices.  In addition, you can also include information about the culture of the company, how and when it was founded, promote its values and outline the benefits of working there; plus you could include a message (introduction and welcome) from the MD/CEO. 

Essentially, it is useful document for all staff, including new staff to help them understand the “way we do things here” and to help them integrate with the team and company culture.

What are the benefits of having a staff handbook?

The staff handbook gives a company the opportunity to get the right information out to their employees, which will in turn safeguard the business should there be any potential litigation matters that can arise from time to time.

The benefits of having a staff handbook include: –

  • Introduces your company’s ethos, values and goals; thereby getting ‘buy-in’ from the team.
  • It gives you an opportunity to set out in detail what you expect from your staff and what they are entitled to and can expect from you – their employer (such as employment rights and benefits).
  • It allows you to communicate your policies/procedures clearly and without ambiguity to your employees.
  • It avoids case-by-case practice design, which is time-consuming but also runs the risk of inconsistent treatment of people and situations.
  • It is designed to answer employees’ questions on their employer’s procedures and the workplace.
  • It can be used as a manager’s guide: to ensure managers adhere to the correct practices.
  • It can provide good evidence that employees are aware that certain conduct can result in disciplinary action or dismissal, or point out the implications of certain behaviour.
  • It can be used as proof that you comply with employment legislation.
  • It can help employers prove that they have acted fairly in accordance with set policies and procedures and can be invaluable for employers facing a tribunal claim.
  • Should an employee take you to an Employment Tribunal or seek other legal redress, an effectively written handbook provides an invaluable document demonstrating you have appropriate policies in place and have exercised a proper duty of care towards the employee (assuming you have behaved in a way which is aligned with the policies set out in the handbook!)

Don’t have a staff handbook if …….

  • It is not accessible to all staff – decide whether to have your handbook as an electronic or paper version (or both).
  • You leave it on a shelf gathering dust, never to be referred to.
  • It is never updated – a staff handbook should be reviewed at least every year – or when new legislation comes in or the business changes.
  • You don’t follow it.

How to design your Staff Handbook

Design your handbook in keeping with your business. 

If you are running a small business, you may not want a formal handbook, unless that’s your style and in that case that’s fine.

If you are a solicitor’s practice, you may choose a formal handbook. If you are a graphic designer, you may wish to have some fun with the design, use fun quotes or images. While the information you are presenting is serious, you don’t have to be serious in its presentation.

There is no need to use jargon or get super lengthy or descriptive. Handbooks should be specific and to the point and in a language that is easy to read. Quite often HR policies are large wordy documents that will put staff off from reading them, let alone digesting the information that they hold.

Another consideration you could give is having the ability to obtain the handbook in the language that reflects your workforce’s demographics.

Be aware that if you chose to have your handbook in glossy brochure form, the entire thing will need re-printing when you either want to make changes to it or legislation changes.

What content should you include

Again, the content in your handbook is up to you and should suit your business. You can decide what content is right for your business now and then you can add to the handbook as business grows and/or develops.

The essential policies I would advise for inclusion are Disciplinary and Grievance, Managing Sickness Absence, Social Media and Use of the Internet and Email.

Other policies you may wish to include may be:

  • Recruitment
  • Working hours
  • Standards and Behaviour at work
  • Whistleblowing policy
  • Bribery Act policy
  • Family friendly policies (Maternity, paternity and adoption, parental leave)
  • Time off for dependents
  • Compassionate and bereavement leave
  • Flexible and home working policies
  • Equal opportunities policy
  • Health and safety

Contractual v Non-Contractual

Avoid making your staff handbook contractual.  This means that if the handbook forms part of the contract of employment, you cannot just amend it when you need or want to.  You will have to obtain your staff’s agreement to do so.  It also means that if you don’t follow your own procedures, you leave yourself open to breach of contract claims.

There will be some terms in your staff handbook which will be contractual, such as sickness and holiday rights.  In those cases, you can specify they are contractual terms.   

I would advise that at the beginning of your handbook specify the handbook is non-contractual and its contents can be changed at the company’s discretion. This will allow you to make changes when you wish to.

I hope this has given you an overview of what is a Staff Handbook and how it can benefit a company by having one. If you have any queries or need help developing or reviewing your handbook, please contact Hill HR.

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