The Staff Handbook
Two of the most important documents that employers should have in place are the contract of employment and the staff handbook.
Although the contract of employment is the most prominent in the minds of both the employer and employee, the staff handbook is sometimes overlooked. The poor relation, it is often drafted and then left in limbo as the organisation evolves around it, ignored until a situation arises where its provisions and contents are put to the test – and often found wanting. This can come as an unpleasant surprise to employers and it is one that, with a little forethought, can be avoided altogether.
There are several tiers of requirement regarding policies to be included in a staff handbook.
The first tier includes policies that are required by law:
Disciplinary Procedures (if not in contract)
Grievance procedures (if not in contract)
Information about pensions (if not in contract)
Health and Safety
The second tier are those policies that the law does not specifically require but for which there are strong legal reasons for inclusion:
Equal Opportunities policy
Data Protection policy
The difference between a Data Protection policy and an IT policy is that the former would usually have details about subject access requests that employees can make and about information that is processed and kept on personnel files etc. whereas an IT policy would cover the use of particular IT equipment, such as office computers, BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), the use of the office internet connection, social media, emails, etc. The employer may choose to have individual policies on these particular areas.
The third tier are those policies which employers are recommended to have, by way of best practice:
Sickness absence policy
Flexible working policy
Time off for dependents
Compassionate and bereavement leave
Family friendly policies – e.g. maternity paternity, shared parental leave, adoption etc.
Bullying and harassment policy
The final tier are other policies that an employer may see fit to include, reflecting the needs of their specific business; amongst these could be a dress code and measures to be taken in the event of adverse weather.
Although company handbook policies can be part of the employment contract, it might be better to keep them separate as they can be updated by the employer when legislation changes or when the company re-organises without having to obtain the agreement of the employee.
The employer is also protected from a breach of contract claim if, inadvertently, they fail to adhere to a particular policy.
If there is a trade union or employee representatives in the workplace, the employer should consult with them when drafting or reviewing the handbook.
In order to ensure that the handbook reflects the current situation in the workplace, takes into account new developments and is compliant with legislation and best practice, employers should review it at least once a year.