Staff handbook: what you should and shouldn't do as employers

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25 October, 2018

This article offers several tips and guidance for employers to ensure best employment practices are being followed when it comes to drafting and managing company handbooks.

The importance and significance of a staff handbook cannot be understated. It is a document that outlines a company's vision and values and is a go-to manual that prescribes the working relationship between an employer and its staff, by outlining rules of behaviour and codes of conduct that are to be followed. Suffice to say, if individuals fail to act in accordance with company processes and procedures, this is a strong indication that the company's expectations haven't been met. As a result, you may instigate the disciplinary process against such individuals - in most (not all) circumstances. Essentially, it is an invaluable reference tool that allows everyone to be on the same page.

So, what does your handbook in fact say? Has it been updated lately?

Here are our top tips for your handbook:

Tip No.1: Know what's written in your handbook.

It is imperative for you to be aware of what's stated in your handbook and whether it has been drafted in line with the company's needs.

Often, companies find themselves in costly litigation as senior personnel within the company have failed to follow company procedures. Managers find themselves on the witness stand in an employment tribunal who concede that they were unaware of how certain processes and procedures should have been followed. This is not only damaging to the company's reputation, but can also have serious repercussions on the success and outcome of a litigated case. Avoid using standard templates.

Therefore, it's all well and good to have policies in place, but managers too need to receive the appropriate training for effective and successful implementation. So, if it's a disciplinary or grievance process, provide training opportunities for those relevant personnel who would conduct these important hearings in order to apply your procedures consistently. As a result, this will avoid any procedural failings on the part of the company.

Tip No.2: Save yourself the avoidable hassle and risks of claims by making the company handbook non-contractual.

If your handbook is contractual and you aren't following your policies exactly (even minor failures in procedures), this could lead to breach of contract claims against the company. As such, best practice is to keep the handbook non-contractual with employment contracts separate to the handbook. This will prevent any ambiguity and will ultimately avoid breach of contract claims against the company.

Tip No. 3: If you are to make any changes to policies and procedures, ensure this is documented in writing.

It is also practically convenient to have a non-contractual handbook. Strictly speaking, you are able to amend the handbook at any time. However, best practice would be to inform (or, if necessary, to consult) your employees and make them aware of any changes you propose to make before revising your policies and procedures.

Tip No.4: Keep it relevant and fit for purpose.

Make sure it is drafted by employment law specialists to ensure it is compliant with legislation and ensure you revise and update policies and procedures on a regular basis keeping it up to date.

Tip No.5: Make the handbook clearly accessible.

Place the handbook on your intranet or alternatively in physical locations for all staff to view and access.

Tip No.6: Ensure it is user friendly and well drafted.

For instance, if your disciplinary policy says the disciplinary hearing will be heard 'within X working days', you must stick to this timeframe - although it should be drafted as 'usually within X working days' to allow the company flexibility and leeway - a sub tip to note. The handbook should be clear to all and not open to misinterpretation.

Tip No.7: If a policy is worth writing about, incorporate it within the handbook.

Tip No.8: Ask employees to sign an acknowledgment that they have received and understood policies contained within the handbook. There can be no doubt as to what is expected from your staff.

In light of the above guidance, assess how many tips you are following. If you find that there are some you are (somewhat) neglecting, explore the reasons for this, remove the dust from your handbook and get it in order as soon as possible.

If you are looking for more information in relation to staff handbooks or employment contracts, please view our Employment & HR section. You can also contact our Employment and HR team by telephone on 0333 207 1135. Alternatively, send your enquiry to us through our online contact form.

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