What is an Employee Handbook?
A single document containing expectations of employees, entitlements to benefits, rules and policies relating to the employment relationship.
The Employee Handbook can be known by different names, employee manual, staff handbook, culture guide, operations bible - increasingly new and brand specific names are being used. This in itself is a great way of communicating culture.
What are the benefits of an Employee Handbook?
In the UK, there is no legal requirement to have an Employee Handbook. However, there are policies such as the Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures that you are required to issue, so the Employee Handbook is the ideal place for this. This isn’t the only benefit:
- Having everything in one place - Putting all your policies and procedures into one place makes life easier for everyone. It creates a centralised reference point ensuring all your team knows to go when they have a question.
- Proving a Fair Dismissal - Should an employee breach your rules and is dismissed and that dismissal is challenged in an employment tribunal, then you will need to demonstrate they were aware of the rule in question. Housing everything in one place helps to ensure the rules are clear and shared with everyone.
- Company Culture - An Employee Handbook is an important part of conveying your culture, especially to new starters. Avoid it being a draconian rule book and use it to create a sense of belonging. Use it to demonstrate the positives of your culture, explain your mission, why the business does what it does and the company values. How you write an Employee Handbook matters, a long list of what not to do doesn’t give the impression of a healthy adult culture.
- Setting Expectations - When expectations are clear and written down people are far more likely to meet them. Simple things like, when we’re sick we need to know who to contact and how. The Handbook must accurately reflect those expectations on a day to day basis to carry it’s worth, no policy is effective if it’s not followed. Write your Handbook to reflect what you do and what you expect of people every day - it’s about reality.
What should be Included in the Employee Handbook?
Exactly what is included in an Employee Handbook will vary from company to company. It should cover everything relating to the employment relationship and reference all the rules you may need to enforce. As a minimum an Employee Handbook should include:
- Disciplinary rules and procedure
- Grievance Procedure
- Holiday entitlement and the conditions around booking and taking holiday.
- Sickness absence rules
- All other leave entitlements - both statutory and benefits you’re offering
- Equal Opportunity / Anti-discrimination policy
- Anti-Harassment policy
- References to health and safety and consequences of rule breaches - although full health and safety rules may be in a separate handbook
- Use of IT systems, email, internet and devices
- Social Media Policy
In addition the Handbook may also include:
- Welcome from CEO or Founder
- Company’s mission statement, vision and values
- Expectations such as behaviour and dress codes
- Details of pay, overtime, time off in lieu
- Details of training
- Data Protection Policy
- Drug and Alcohol policy - if you’re drug or alcohol testing this is essential
- Flexible working - how to apply
- Whistleblowing policy
It’s not just the section titles that are important but what is contained within them. The content of policies and procedures will vary, it’s crucial each policy complies with relevant employment law - the disciplinary and grievance policies for example must follow the ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures. Your holiday policy must meet the statutory minimum entitlements but outside of this you’re free to choose your process for booking and taking holiday - this process must fit what you need in your business. Update your Handbook regularly to ensure it remains a living document that’s useful to the business.
Top Tip: Make it non-contractual as this gives you the option to change policies and procedures when needed without getting agreement from your employees. Contractual terms and conditions, such as pay and working hours, should be in their contract of employment.
How to Present an Employee Handbook
The best way to publish an Employee Handbook will depend on your company and how your people work. Ideally every employee should have a physical copy or be able to personally access the document. It must be a freely accessible document or it’s meaningless, people need to be able to reference it as and when required. Keeping a single hard copy in the HR Manager’s office does not make it a useful living document.
Printing a copy for each individual employee may be necessary in some situations but this would also include reprinting whenever it is updated to ensure people have an updated copy. Increasingly people have access to online storage of some form where the Employee Handbook can be held.
If you have HR Software such as Breathe HR, the Employee Handbook can be stored within the software, giving all employees access whenever they need it. Breathe HR allows employers to set a read deadline, requiring employees within the system to confirm they have read it and allowing management to monitor who has read it.
Company Wikis such as Confluence or Notion are also great places to hold an Employee Handbook. These are particularly useful as they provide a single centralised point of reference not only for the Employee Handbook but all key information such as, who’s who boards, brand guidelines, health and safety procedures, induction processes - the list is endless.
Whichever route you choose you will need to demonstrate that all employees know how to access the Employee Handbook, can access it easily, are familiar with it as a document and are made aware of updates. When carrying out updates, keep a list of changes made and notify employees what those changes are.
Writing your Employee Handbook
Writing an Employee Handbook takes time and must be done in conjunction with your employment contracts to ensure there is no contradiction between the documents. They must also be specific to your needs. Take something as simple as start time for example - when you have people out on the road you’ll need much more detail around what start time actually means (e.g. when they leave home, when they arrive on site, the time they stop at the yard on route to site).
It’s also important to keep them up to date, regularly reviewing your contracts and Handbook to ensure they remain legally compliant and still fit the needs of the business.
Qualified HR Consultants can write both the employment contract and Employee Handbook for you. They should tailor it to your business because they have the experience they’ll be able to see the risks and pitfalls to help you avoid them.
If you’re looking for an Employee Handbook for your small business our HR Consultants at Silk Helix can help.
We can help, so call us on 01245 910 500.
Article last updated: 21 March 2022
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