What is a staff handbook?

A staff handbook is a collection of all the rules, information and employment policies that apply within an organisation, from time to time. A handbook will set out in detail everything an employer requires its staff to be aware of and follow in their work. Such documents are normally lengthy and cover many more areas and contain far more detail than in an employment contract.

A staff handbook is usually stated to be a non-contractual (or “discretionary”) document meaning that an employer can amend the details within it at any time without warning and without having to secure the agreement of its workforce first. Employees cannot enforce the terms of a non-contractual staff handbook in a Court or employment tribunal as it confers no legal rights upon them, in contrast to their employment contract which is legally enforceable.

Employment policies found in a staff handbook should be regarded as a suggested framework for how the employer will deal with certain matters, in most cases. However, there is usually a wide exemption which enables the employer to change or disregard the detail of the policy if it considers it reasonable to do so.

Why is a staff handbook important?

A staff handbook is an important repository of information for all staff working in an organisation, it is a universal “go to” document. It enables the employer to set out in far more detail than it could do in employment contracts, the behaviour, standards and ways of working it expects from its staff.

Employment policies set out in staff handbooks provide a helpful framework for managers dealing with issues that arise in the working environment, ensuring matters are dealt with consistently and fairly. A staff handbook is not a static document but one which can evolve to reflect changing needs.

Should a staff handbook be contractual?

We would always recommend that staff handbooks are clearly stated to be non-contractual. This gives the employer maximum flexibility and freedom to make changes as required with the minimum of bureaucracy. It also means that an employer may decide not to follow a policy or rule on certain occasions.

It is not quite as simple as the employer stating in writing that the staff handbook is non-contractual. The terms of certain non-contractual employment policies (such as redundancy policies) risk becoming enforceable by employees over time if very clear language is not included to protect the employer. Employers should therefore always seek professional advice as to whether their staff handbook contains appropriate language.

How to write a staff handbook

Most staff handbooks include a familiar list of standard policies such as disciplinary and grievance, family leave procedures, requests for flexible working, absence reporting, IT use and data protection. However, an employer can include whatever policies and rules are relevant to its business and workforce, as such the potential list of information which maybe included is fairly limitless.

Ideally, an employer putting together a staff handbook would first consult widely within their business, talking to managers, HR and individual employees about what they would like to see covered. For those employers looking to keep things fairly simple, Springhouse can provide a list of standard policies and wording for these. Arguably, a shorter more targeted staff handbook which focuses on the situations most employees are likely to encounter on a regular basis (rather than including the kitchen sink!) will be more user-friendly and effective.

How Springhouse can help

A staff handbook can be as important as an employment contract. By making clear your policies, you are protecting your business by letting employees know exactly what is expected of them.

Our qualified employment lawyers will draft policies covering all aspects of work, from disciplinary proceedings, grievances, equal opportunities and data protection to dress code, social media, outside interests and more.

We will draft a staff handbook for you for a fixed price. Find out more here.

Contact us for an initial chat with our helpful team.

Expertise for employers

Starting employment: contracts and policies

During employment: handling staff problems

Common issues raised by staff

Ending employment



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