Staff Handbook – What to Include?

The staff handbook can represent one of the most important documents in the workplace, providing employees with key information about the terms and conditions of their employment, as well as what to expect from their employer and what is expected of them.

In this guide, we look at what the staff handbook is, including what purpose it serves and the benefits from having one in place. We also look at whether a staff handbook is required as a matter of law and what employers should include in the staff handbook as matter of best practice.


What is a staff handbook?

A staff handbook, also commonly known as an employee or company handbook, is a set of documents designed to provide staff with information about the employer’s organisation, the employee’s working conditions, as well as employee rights and responsibilities at work.

The contract of employment sets out the core terms and conditions governing the working relationship, while the staff handbook may contain additional contractual provisions relating to matters such as annual leave entitlement, maternity and other forms of parental leave, as well as any occupational sick pay scheme and pension scheme in place. In this way, the staff handbook can supplement matters set out within each employment contract.

The staff handbook will also usually provide employees with guidance on various other employment-related matters, including the employer’s disciplinary and grievance procedures, matters relating to health and safety at work, equality and diversity within the workplace, as well as other workplace policies. Again, some of these matters may simply be informative, while others may be treated as incorporated into the contracts of employment.


What are the benefits of having a staff handbook?

The staff handbook is a practical way of collating all workplace policies and procedures in an easily accessible format, providing workers with a one-stop information point in relation to their employment. The handbook will essentially communicate on the employer’s behalf what is expected of employees, as well as what they can expect from the employer, through a clear set of guidelines on how issues will be handled within the workplace. The staff handbook can therefore represent an important part of an effectively managed workforce.

Additionally, by implementing fair and legally compliant policies and procedures within the staff handbook, this will demonstrate a commitment to staff to treat them fairly and in accordance with the law. In the event that staff have an issue, they will have a go-to manual to explain their rights and entitlements, together with ways in which any disputes will be handled by the employer. This, in turn, is also likely to reduce the potential for disharmony within the workplace and even minimise the risk of disputes arising.


Is a staff handbook required by law?

Having a staff handbook is not a strict statutory requirement for employers, even though it can represent an essential component of effectively managing the workforce. However, the employer must still provide certain written workplace policies and procedures. For example, the law says that every business must have a policy for managing health and safety at work. Equally, employers must put their disciplinary and grievance procedures in writing that meet the minimum statutory requirements as prescribed by the ACAS Code of Practice.

It is good practice for employers to ensure that all workplace policies and procedures are easily accessible. As such, most reputable employers, both large and small, will have a staff handbook in place to provide the information needed throughout the employment lifecycle.

For medium or large-sized organisations, a copy of the staff handbook can usually be found in digital format on the staff intranet site, comprising a number of separately headed provisions dealing with each workplace matter. However, for smaller employers, a cost effective alternative would be to produce a limited number of hard copy manuals that employees know exactly where to find in the workplace and can refer to if needed.


What are the risks of not having a staff handbook?

As there is no legal requirement to have a staff handbook there is no risk, of itself, of not having one, although there are other adverse consequences that can arise because of this.

If a business does not have a staff handbook, or the handbook is outdated, at the very least this is likely to reflect badly on the employer and damage the employer brand.

Another key risk of not having a staff handbook in place is that this will leave employers vulnerable in the context of any tribunal claim made against them, struggling to defend any decision-making process or workplace practices. In the absence of certain workplace policies, this will almost certainly be viewed unfavourably by an employment tribunal. This could even result in adverse inferences being drawn, for example, the absence of an equality and diversity policy could help to support findings of unlawful discrimination.

It is therefore important that employers have in place various up-to-date workplace policies and procedures, regularly reviewing these documents to ensure that they meet the minimum statutory requirements under the latest legislation and remain fit for purpose at all times. In this way, employer decision-making and the various different issues that can arise during the course of the employment lifecycle are less likely to be open to challenge.

It is also important that the staff handbook containing these policies and procedures is made readily accessible to all members of staff, together with all the other information and guidance needed when working for an organisation. As a matter of good practice, all new-starters should be asked to sign a declaration confirming that they have read and understood the contents of the handbook as part of their induction process.


What should a staff handbook include?

There is no set format for staff handbooks, where there are various staff handbook templates that can be downloaded online when deciding on format and design. These can be specifically tailored to the size and resources of a business. However, no matter how simple or comprehensive, the staff handbook should always be set out in a clear and logical format, including a contents page for ease of reference, and making use of various appendices to attach any lengthy and detailed documents to the back of the handbook.

For those employers providing a staff handbook for the first time, it may be best to start with general information about the organisation and a few key workplace policies, adding to this in time. For employers with staff handbooks already in place, they may want to review and supplement their existing handbook with additional policies not already included, although seeking expert advice from an employment law specialist is strongly advised. By having an expert review or re-draft the provisions of a handbook, employers can feel confident that its contents are in accordance with the law as it stands, whilst also meeting the economical and operational needs of both their business and the workforce.


What should each staff handbook section contain?

The staff handbook should start with a welcoming introduction to the employer’s organisation, followed by an outline of its ethos, culture and values. The handbook should then set out each workplace policy in turn, where an outline of some of the key workplace policies and procedures that can typically be found in staff handbooks are set out below.

This list is not exhaustive but, as a matter of best practice, should be treated as a minimum.


The induction process

The induction process is for new-starters and should contain practical information and guidance about starting a new job role, including:

  • information about right to work checks
  • information about any criminal record checks
  • an outline of any probationary period and how this works
  • information about any trade union membership
  • any matters relating to training, development and promotion
  • practical information about the working environment and site facilities.

The new-starter should also familiarise themselves with any separate polices or information around financial entitlements. The contract of employment will set out all core contractual matters, including an individual’s salary or pay, although additional matters relating to pay and benefits will often be set out in the staff handbook. These can include overtime arrangements and time off in lieu, business travel and work-related expenses, any company car and other contractual benefits, as well as any pension entitlement and opting out.


Employee conduct at work

All new-starters must be made aware of the standards expected of them, where they must be asked to review any code of conduct policy as part of their induction process, including:

  • any dress code or appearance at work
  • attendance at work and unauthorised absences
  • standards of performance at work
  • performance reviews and appraisal procedures
  • smoking or vaping on work premises
  • consumption of alcohol and substance misuse
  • use of company premises and company property
  • computer, email, internet and telephone use
  • use of mobile phones in the workplace
  • use of social media during and outside working hours
  • confidentiality and data protection matters
  • procedures for reporting any conflicts of interest
  • receipt of gifts, and bribery or other corrupt behaviour
  • reporting changes in personal contact information
  • reporting wrongdoing at work (whistleblowing).

The employer may want to include guidance around requests for flexible working as part of the induction process, although this will often be structured as a standalone policy.


An equality & diversity policy

This should explain the different types of discrimination (including direct and indirect discrimination, as well as harassment and victimisation) setting out the duty on employers not to unlawfully discriminate by reason of any one of the protected characteristics as set out under the Equality Act 2010, together with practical examples. The protected characteristics include age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.

This policy should include a statement that unlawful discrimination will not be tolerated, and make it clear that the employer is committed to valuing equality and diversity in the workplace, and to creating a fair and inclusive working environment for everyone.

When it comes to discrimination, the employer may want to create a separate policy around disability discrimination, including the duty to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace to remove any disadvantage suffered by disabled job applicants and workers.


Health & safety at work

Every business must have a written policy for managing health and safety at work, where employers are under a duty, so far as is reasonably practicable, to maintain the health, safety and welfare of employees at work, as well as the health and safety of anyone else visiting the employer’s premises or otherwise affected by the activities of the business.

As an absolute minimum, the health and safety policy should include information on:

  • first aid and designated first aiders at work
  • emergency exits and evacuation procedures
  • fire safety on the premises
  • personal safety at work and working safely on site
  • accident and incident reporting
  • any specific risk assessments in place, for example, in relation to the use of machinery and/or personal protective equipment.

The employer may also want to put in place a standalone policy relating to stress at work.


A sickness policy

The employment contract will normally outline the basis upon which an employee will be entitled to sick pay when taking time off work through illness or injury. However, these provisions can be supplemented within the staff handbook by providing a clear framework for reporting, managing and recording sickness-related absences from work, including:

  • the notification procedures for reporting sickness absence
  • self-certification and the provision of sick notes
  • the right to statutory or occupational sick pay
  • keeping in touch during sick leave
  • long-term sick leave and capability procedures.


Other types of leave

The staff handbook should include detailed provision relating to other types of leave, in addition to sick leave, where typical leave arrangements include:

  • annual leave entitlement and holiday pay
  • maternity, paternity and adoption leave and pay
  • shared and unpaid parental leave
  • time off for family emergencies, including compassionate leave.


Disciplinary and grievance procedures

Employers must set out their disciplinary and grievance procedures in writing. These procedures must also meet the minimum requirements of the ACAS Code of Practice.

The employer may choose to have a separate policy relating to both disciplinary and grievance matters, where any policy on disciplinary matters in the workplace should outline what misconduct and poor performance issues might lead to disciplinary action and the potential sanctions that might be imposed, including dismissal. However, the employer may also choose to have a separate capability and performance policy in place.

In the context of grievances, the employer should again outline the different types of complaints an employee may make, including the procedure for lodging a formal grievance, and the informal and formal ways in which workplace disputes may be dealt with.


Termination of employment

Last, but not least, the employer should provide guidance on matters around termination.

There are a number of ways in which an individual’s employment can come to an end, including through resignation, dismissal, redundancy or retirement. There are also a number of different issues to consider when an employee leaves an organisation, including:

  • statutory or contractual notice periods
  • any requirement to work notice and pay in lieu provisions
  • return of any company property on termination
  • any other conditions on leaving work, including confidentiality and restraint of trade clauses as set out within an individual’s employment contract.


Need assistance?

For expert advice on developing or implementing a staff handbook for your organisation, contact us.

Last updated: 23 February 2024

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