Employee Handbooks: What to Include

January 30, 2023

Employee handbooks are known by many names, from staff handbooks to employee manuals, to - catchy one this - a company policy manual. Regardless of what name it goes by, an employee handbook can be likened to a bible of sorts for employees and employers alike. It includes key policies, company expectations, and role-related information that an employee would need to know.  

Put simply, employee handbooks are an important component of not just the hiring process, but the ongoing development of your team, their welfare, and the company’s welfare. In this article, our employment experts tackle the what, why, and how of an employee handbook. From what you should include, to how to create one, we explain in simple terms the art of the employee handbook.

First things first, let’s dive into the basics.  

What is an employee handbook?

An employee handbook contains key information related to employment matters within the business. This might include things like workplace expectations for an employee, the consequences for failing to comply with core employment policies, and the steps a business takes to uphold its employment law obligations.  

Why are employee handbooks important?  

Employee handbooks are important for a range of reasons, from protecting the business from legal risk to communicating clearly the policies set to impact an employee. An employee handbook will serve a number of functions, but at a top level you can expect it to:

  • Outline company expectations for workplace behaviour
  • Explain the consequences for noncompliance or a breach of company policies
  • Detail a company’s employment law obligations, and the steps it takes to meet them
  • Minimise legal risk by outlining complaint procedures
  • Answer common employee questions, such as how staff are paid or how holiday days are accrued.  

The importance of an employee handbook can be perhaps best summarised by its ability to educate employees, save HR and the people team valuable time, and overall protect the business from legal risk.

What are the benefits of an employee handbook?

Where do we start? Aside from helping to protect a business from legal risk, a well-crafted employee handbook will provide a long list of benefits. From setting the tone of the company culture to reassuring employees with bounties of information, an employee handbook goes a long way towards beginning a robust relationship with your team. So, what are the benefits of an employee handbook?  

Define the culture

First thing’s first, culture. Company culture can guide an attitude to work, define an ethos that underpins projects, or fuel the mission statement that pulls a business together. For new hires, grappling with the company culture is an important stepping stone towards settling into their new place of employment. An employee handbook begins the employee/employer relationship with crystal clear clarity, ensuring both parties are on the same page from the get-go.

Educate and inform employees  

Your employees are bound to have a few questions. From day-to-day queries, such as holiday entitlement, to more complex matters, such as grievances , your employee handbook will contain much of the core information an employee will need in the course of their work. Similarly, your employee handbook should successfully set expectations, both for management and the team. In doing so, it will outline a standard of behaviour the business is committed to collectively upholding. If for some reason, things go awry, your employee handbook will also provide employees with an explanation of how they can seek out help, and in what circumstances. Handy.  

Collate key policies  

Next up, company policies. The business will have a series of policies that outline the approach to certain legal issues, and the steps the business takes to manage employment law obligations. However, there’s no use writing a policy, if no one reads it or abides by it. An employee handbook serves as the one-stop-shop for key policies set to impact the employee/employer relationship. This might include policies such as a whistleblower policy, a data protection policy, or an equal opportunities policy.  

Tackles legal risk

Aside from housing crucial employment-related information, your employee handbook can also go a long way towards mitigating risk. Your employee handbook will include information related to grievances, when they arise, how to tackle them, and the company process to resolve issues. Similarly, your handbook will include information related to de-escalating problems, and the steps an employee needs to follow when raising an issue.  

Is an employee handbook required by law?

While an employee handbook itself is not required by law, businesses are legally obliged to set out certain policies and procedures - and to educate their employees on these policies and procedures. This is where an employee handbook can become particularly useful. The employee handbook houses crucial detail for employees, alongside collating the policies and procedures a company is obliged to hold. This allows the company to educate and inform its employees while meeting its employment law obligations in one easy-to-source spot.

What should be included in an employee handbook?

Your employee handbook is tasked with a tall order - educate and inform employees, define expectations, outline procedures, and house core policies. So, where should you start? And what should your employee handbook include? Below we’ve included some of the core policies and procedures you will want your employee handbook to include.  

Disciplinary and grievance procedures

While it's the last thing you want as an employer, from time to time issues will arise. Perhaps an employee has breached company policy. Perhaps, a dispute has arisen between staff members. Or perhaps, the behaviour of a staff member has put the business at risk. In this instance, you’ll need clearly defined disciplinary and grievance procedures that address the company’s obligations, the options available to employees, and the process for action, resolution, or dismissal.  

Equal opportunities policy

Employers aren’t legally obliged to include an equal opportunities policy. However, it’s becoming increasingly important as firms look towards building a more diverse and more ethical working world. This policy will outline your company’s commitment to providing equal opportunities for prospective and existing employees. The policy will define the company’s stance on discrimination and harassment, and the steps the business takes to quash it from the industry.  

Features of this policy will include notes on disability, discrimination, the recruitment selection process, and the consequences of a breach of this policy.  

Expenses policy

In the course of business, your employee may have expenses that need to be paid. Perhaps, they’ve taken a prospective client out to be wined and dined as part of a sales process. Perhaps, they’ve incurred costs travelling to and from a networking event on behalf of the business. Or, perhaps, they’ve had to stay in a hotel overnight to be present for a company meeting. As an employer you’ll need to set out your expenses policy, the process your staff needs to follow to be reimbursed, and the types of expenses that can be covered by the business.  

Anti-harassment and bullying policy

An employer can be held liable if it fails to protect employees from harassment or bullying. An anti-harassment and bullying policy sets out in clear terms what constitutes harassment, what employees can do to make a complaint, how the employer intends to deal with harassment and bullying, and the resources available to employees in the event things go awry.

Anti-corruption and bribery policy

While an anti-corruption and bribery policy is not a legal requirement, it is an invaluable safeguard against legal fallout in the event of a bribery offence. Without this policy in place, a business is likely to struggle with cobbling together a defence.  

This policy defines what constitutes a bribe, the obligations of the employer and its employees related to corruption and bribery, and the procedure for raising concerns.

Whistleblowing policy

Next up, is the whistleblower policy. A whistleblower sounds the alarm when a business or individual is engaged in unethical or harmful practices, such as fraud, the endangerment of health and safety, or money laundering. However, to avail of whistleblower rights, a whistleblower needs to follow a set process. Your whistleblower policy will define that process, and outline what a whistleblower needs to do to sound the alarm. Understanding what is, and isn’t protected, in terms of a disclosure, can be a challenge. Fortunately, we made a handy infographic on whistleblower laws to simplify the process.  

Holidays policy

Next up, holidays. Your holiday policy will need to include information related to holiday entitlement, how to accrue holiday, the process for taking holiday, and the impact termination can have on holiday entitlements.  

Sickness absence policy  

What is your company’s approach to sickness absence? While there are entitlements related to statutory sick pay, you’ll need to define what an employee needs to do in the event of becoming ill, how to report it, and the process for returning to work if the absence is prolonged.

Parental policies

Your employee handbook will need to include information related to maternity and paternity leave, antenatal appointments, and the company’s adoption policy. Make sure these policies accurately reflect your commitment to your team and what the business intends to do to support working families.

Flexible working policy

Remote and hybrid working has taken the employment world by storm, and it shows no sign of slowing down. So much so, that an estimated 80% of workers express a desire for hybrid working in the future. With that in mind, a flexible working policy can be a useful asset in expressing the company’s stance on flexible working, the entitlements of employees, and the process for requesting flexible working entitlements.  

Health and safety policy

No employee handbook would be complete without a health and safety policy. Employers have a number of legal obligations towards the health and safety of their employees, contractors, and members of the public (in the event your business has an office). Your health and safety policy will explain the steps the business has taken to safeguard health and safety, the responsibilities of employees and employers, and the resources available to maintain compliance with health and safety requirements.

Data protection policy

It’s highly like that as a business you will be processing personal data. As a result, you’ll need to have a data protection policy that explains how you use that data, how the business complies with the UK GDPR, and the responsibilities of the business and its employees to abide by data protection rules. Need support with building a data protection policy? Our data protection fanatics can simplify the process.  

Given the vast scope of policies that can impact employees and the varying risks that face businesses, this isn’t an exhaustive list. You may also want to include things such as a social media policy, compassionate leave procedures, or IT and communications policies.  

How we support HR and people teams

Employee handbooks offer an arsenal of employment information, designed to do right by employees and employers alike. And, armed with an employee handbook, companies can move forward confident in their legal strategy.  

Receive our insights directly to your inbox by signing up to our newsletter

Recommended content