What exactly are staff handbooks? What needs to be included in them and what doesn’t? What potential pitfalls are there to look out for? We answer all these questions and more in our employment law guide to staff handbooks.

Alternatively, just give our team of solicitors a call to discuss our fixed fee staff handbooks.

It is not practical, usually, to include particular works rules in an employment contract because the provisions can be long-winded, and employers will not usually want them all to be contractual (we will get on to contractual and non-contractual policies later).

Staff handbooks are usually in physical, paper form. However, they can equally exist on-line, and this has the advantage of making them easier to change.

Changeability, and contractual status

If your staff handbook is contractual in nature i.e. it is something that can be legally enforced by both parties.

Some items in a staff handbook are of such fundamental importance that companies may wish them to be contractual. Certainly, at Springhouse, our home working policy is contractual for staff.

In terms of any other items in the staff handbook, we would recommend that they are non-contractual. This is so that changes can be made in the future. If the terms of the staff handbook are contractual, the employees need to agree any changes to it.

One item that employees will often wish to be contractual but employers won’t are the disciplinary and grievance procedures. If these are contractual, and the company is legally obliged to follow them, it can make life a lot harder when it comes to making what may be a perfectly justified dismissal.

So, what of dismissal? Will a contractual staff handbook make this easier?

In our contracts of employment, we do warn employees that any breaches of the (non-contractual) staff handbook will be treated seriously, which paves the way for action to be taken.

Conversely, where staff handbooks are contractual, just because an employee has breached a term of the contract, this does not mean that their employer can automatically dismiss them. For there to be an act of gross misconduct entitling an employer to summarily dismiss an employee, they will need to breach a fundamental term of the contract. Not every term of the staff handbook will be fundamental. The right to dismiss in these circumstances will usually exist whether or not the staff handbook is contractual.

What should be included in a staff handbook?

Items that you will have to see in a staff handbook or in the contract itself will be rules relating to:

  • Disciplinary and grievance rules.
  • Holiday rules and holiday pay.
  • Sickness absence rules and pay

Certain policies are so important that we would advise them to be included in every staff handbook. These are the equal opportunities policy and the home working policy. The equal opportunities policy will be requested by a Tribunal if there is ever a discrimination complaint. Tribunals will also want to know whether or not staff have had training in it. One of the best insurance policies companies can put in place (as they have a ‘reasonable steps to avoid’ defence to discrimination claims) is to have a good equal opportunities policy, to make sure people know about it, and to provide regular training in it.

Home work is another area where, if it happens, we would say there should be a policy in every staff handbook . This is because employment in these situations is very much out of the control of the employer and they will have obligations not only in respect of confidentiality and security of customer information, but also in respect of health and safety of their members of staff.

So, items that we would expect to be in a staff handbook are as follows. Those marked * are essential in our view.

  1. Introduction – Welcome
  2. Personal details, home address and next of kin*
  3. Dress Code
  4. Expenses Policy
  5. Equal Opportunities Policy*
  6. Anti-harassment and Bullying Policy
  7. Anti-corruption and Bribery Policy
  8. Sickness Absence Policy
  9. Capability Procedure
  10. Disciplinary Rules*
  11. Disciplinary Procedure*
  12. Grievance Procedure*
  13. Whistleblowing Policy
  14. Maternity Policy
  15. Paternity Policy
  16. Adoption Policy
  17. Parental Leave Policy
  18. Time Off for Dependants Policy
  19. Compassionate Leave
  20. Bereavement Leave
  21. Flexible Working Policy
  22. Homeworking Policy
  23. Career Break Policy
  24. Time Off for Training Policy
  25. Time Off for Public Duties
  26. Adverse Weather and Travel Disruption Policy
  27. Health and Safety Policy*
  28. No-smoking Policy
  29. Stress Policy
  30. Substance Misuse Policy
  31. Data Protection Policy*
  32. Information and Communications Systems Policy*
  33. Social Media Policy*
  34. Redundancy Policy
  35. Retirement Policy (no fixed retirement age)

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