Employee Handbooks

Employee handbooks are known by many names; staff handbook/employee manual/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, role-related information, the consequences of failing to comply with core policies; and the steps a business takes to uphold its employment law obligationd. .  

Put simply, they're important component of not just the hiring process, but the ongoing development of your team and the welfare of the business and those in it.

Why are employee handbooks important?

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, including an outline of company expectations for workplace behaviour; to explain the consequences for noncompliance or a breach of company policies; to detail a company’s employment law obligations, and the steps it takes to meet them and to minimise legal risk by outlining complaint procedures

They're also really useful for answering 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. Aside from mitigating risk, a well-crafted employee handbook will help to set the tone of the company culture and reassure employees with bounties of information.

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?

An employee handbook is tasked with a tall order - so, where to start? One of the core aspects you'll want to include is your businesses disciplinary and grievance processes. While it's the last thing you want as an employer, from time to time issues will arise. You’ll need clearly define disciplinary and grievance procedures that address the company’s obligations, the options available to employees, and the process for action, resolution, or dismissal.

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 ethical working world. Having 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.  Equally, 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.

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.  The policy should define what constitutes a bribe, the obligations of the employer and its employees related to corruption and bribery, and the procedure for raising concerns. Speaking of concerns.. 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.  

Absences are likely to take up a large chunk of your employee handbook. One with the most immediate address for your staff will be holiday. Your holiday policy will need to include information related to entitlement, how to accrue holiday, the process for taking holiday, and the impact termination can have on holiday entitlements.  You'll need to create a similar policy for sickness absence to. You should address what the companies approach to sickness absence is. Whilst 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, as well as any entitlements to enhanced pay etc.  

Your employee handbook will need to include a range of information on family leave policies - you could combine this as one or separate for maternity/paternity/adoption/shared parental leave etc. Make sure these policies accurately reflect your commitment to your team and what the business intends to do to support working families. It's worth getting these checked by a HR professional to ensure your policies comply with employment law obligations.

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.  

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.

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, data protection policies, compassionate leave procedures, or IT and communications policies.  

How can we help?

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. We help a variety of businesses such as AccelerComm, Energy Aspects and Togather navigate the ever-changing employment law world.

In need of HR or Employment Law support in the UK? Get in touch with our team.

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