Legal 101

The Definitive guide to Staff Handbooks

Charles Brecque
·
October 25, 2021

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A staff handbook also known as an employee handbook provides a set of rules that outlines minimum standards of conduct to be followed by staff in the workplace. A staff handbook covers a wide range of topics, including hours worked, holiday, maternity leave, redundancy, sick leave and compensation for sickness. This article answers common questions about staff handbooks and explains what it should include at a minimum and why.


What is a staff handbook?

A staff handbook complements a contract of employment by providing a collection of rules and company policies to be followed by the members of staff of a company. A staff handbook can provide additional information to new employees about the company culture and mission statement but this is not a formal requirement.

Is it a legal requirement to have a staff handbook?

Employers are legally required to provide their employees with a statement of work or employment contract but do not need to provide a staff handbook. A staff handbook is still a useful document for employers as it provides more detailed answers to questions which would maybe not be included in an employment contract or would be touched on briefly. Moreover, a staff handbook centralises company policies such as equal opportunities and health and safety which are important for employees so it is generally a good practice to have one.

What should be included in a staff handbook?

A basic staff handbook gives an overview of the terms and conditions of employment as well as what the employee can expect from their employer. The following employment policies are usually part of staff handbook contents:


Hours of work and holiday entitlement

These are the working hours of the employee and will usually reference the employee’s employment contract for the actual hours and timing. It will include information on lunch breaks and annual leave. The potential terms of flexible working or home working should also be detailed in this section.


Absence policy

This section will detail how an employee must report their absences and keep their line manager informed on an expected return date. Disciplinary actions can also be detailed for when an employee is absent due to sickness but later found to not have been genuinely ill.


Sickness policy

If a company has a sickness policy or sick pay it will be detailed in this section. Alternatively it will refer to the employment contract for further information.

Expenses policy

Employees are sometimes required to make purchases during their employment which can be expensed and reimbursed by the employer. This section will explain how frequently an employee can claim expenses and the procedure they will need to follow to be reimbursed by the employer.

Conflict Of Interest

If an employee has doubts about a direct or indirect, activity or interest in any business enterprise which is likely to interfere with their independent exercise of judgement in the employer’s best interest, they should report it to their line manager. For example, an employee should not have interests in a direct competitor or must make the management aware if they had these interests prior to their employment.


Confidentiality

Employees have a duty of confidentiality with regard to their employer. The confidentiality clause of the staff handbook usually provides some examples of sensitive information an employee might be exposed to during their employment and how they must protect it.


Appearance

Employers might have dress codes which will be detailed in this section. An employee will have to dress appropriately and ensure personal hygiene is properly attended to prior to presenting to work.

Smoking And Other Substances At Work

Legislation in the UK restricts smoking and the use of substances so these restrictions will apply during work time and over a period prior to work where effects carry over to the workplace.

Travel

The travel section of the staff handbook will detail what travel can be reimbursed by the employer and the process for approving travel expenses.

Training

Human resources sometimes require employees to complete additional training throughout their employment which will be detailed in this section. This training can help employees maintain their qualifications or advance their skillset.

Equal opportunities policy, bullying and harassment

Since the Equality Act 2010, Employers have obligations towards both job applicants and employees to offer equal opportunities and not discriminate against protected characteristics. The equal opportunities section of the staff handbook should reinforce the employer’s equal opportunities position and explain how employees must report bullying or harassment in the workplace.

Computer, Email And Internet Use

Whether an employee accesses company material on a company or personal computer, procedures must be followed. Policies around internet usage will usually detail the content which can be accessed and conditions for personal usage.

Receipt Of Gifts

Receiving a gift from a client or supplier might improperly interfere with the independence of judgement of an employee which is why no employee or immediate member of their family should accept discounts or gifts of materials, equipment, services, facilities or anything of value. The staff handbook will detail exceptions to this rule when for example the gift is of a very minor nature usually associated with accepted business practice.

Bribery And Other Corrupt Behaviour

Corruption and bribery are illegal actions that companies often find themselves the victim of. A staff handbook can help to protect against these practices by defining what a bribe is and how this type of gross misconduct will be investigated and punished.

Data Security

Employers have data and IT security obligations to protect the company and its clients data. IT Security policies and protocols will be referenced in this section of the staff handbook.

Data Protection And Access To Information

Employers have a statutory requirement to comply with the Data Protection Act and must implement a formal Data Protection Policy for their staff. This will set out what information the employers will collect, why they need it, how they intend to use it and what security measures they will take to protect such information. They must also train all staff who handle such information in the implications of this Act.

Health and safety and duty of care

Employers are legally bound to provide a workplace that is free from risks and hazards. The duty of care they owe their staff is to take reasonable care in ensuring the workplace is safe and well-managed for the employees’ health and safety.


The health and safety section of the staff handbook is to help employees understand how to comply with this legal obligation and minimise the likelihood of an accident occurring in the first place, and reduce the severity of any damage when an accident does happen. In addition to having a health & safety policy, a company should conduct a risk assessment of the workplace before employees start working.


Termination of employment

This section of the staff handbook details the process the employer will follow prior to the cessation of employment of an employee. This might include notice periods, determining the leave date, conducting an exit interview and handing over company property and destroying confidential information which might also be held on the employee’s personal devices.


Disciplinary procedure

An employee’s employment can be terminated by the employer for a breach of contract and acts of gross misconduct which are described in the disciplinary policy section of the staff handbook. Typical examples of gross conduct include serious insubordination,  unauthorised access to, disclosure of, or use of confidential information, and  gross breach of the Company’s anti-bribery, corruption and data security  policies. The termination section also details misconduct which can render employees liable to disciplinary action as well as how the employer will investigate misconduct.

Grievance policy

A grievance procedure is a set of steps an employee can follow to make a complaint about a problem, which is then investigated and resolved. A grievance procedure should give employees a way to voice their concerns about their employment, without feeling intimidated or threatened by their employer.

Where can I find examples of staff handbooks?

Employers sometimes make their staff handbooks public in order to share how their company operates to prospective candidates. Whilst online staff handbooks can inspire your own staff handbook template, it is important to appreciate that sections might not be relevant to your business. Tailoring your own staff handbook template is free, easy and legally compliant with Legislate.

How can I create my own staff handbook?

Whilst establishing a staff handbook is not always the first priority of a new employer, it shows that you are a serious employer as it provides practical information to situations employees can encounter in their day-to-day. The Legislate staff handbook template is suitable for small businesses and contains all the essential clauses you need as a responsible employer. To create a staff handbook with Legislate, simply answer simple questions and a tailored template will automatically be generated. To get started, sign up today, read a tutorial or book a call with us if you have additional questions.

About Legislate

Legislate is an early stage legal technology startup which allows large landlords, letting agents and small businesses to easily create, sign and manage contracts that are prudent and fair. Legislate’s platform is built on its patented knowledge graph which streamlines the contracting process and aggregates contract statistics to quickly unlock valuable insights. Legislate’s team marries technical and legal expertise to create a painless, smart contracting experience for its users. Legislate is backed by Parkwalk Advisors, Perivoli Innovations and angel investors.

The opinions on this page are for general information purposes only and do not constitute legal advice on which you should rely.


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