Staff Handbook Template (What to Include?)

    Staff handbook template

    IN THIS ARTICLE

    An effective staff handbook plays an important role for employers. Its contents are usually binding, unless the handbook specifically says otherwise, which makes it important for employers to get the information right.

    The handbook should act as a helpful and reliable resource for employees, alleviating the pressure on HR to deal with everyday queries from personnel.

    While there is no one-size-fits all approach to creating a staff handbook, using a staff handbook template can help to shape the structure and type of information to include that will be of most use, benefit and value to your employees and the organisation as a whole. It’s then a matter of applying the structure to your organisation’s specific needs.

    This guide has been designed to help employers approach developing and creating their staff handbook, looking at what an effective staff handbook should contain.

     

    What is a staff handbook?

    A staff handbook is a written document designed to provide each of your employees, and other staff members, with information about your organisation, as well as details of their employment. The handbook can also include workplace policies and procedures that individuals are expected to follow, some of which may supplement and form part of their contract of employment.

    Although the employment contract will set out the core terms and conditions governing the working relationship between you and your employees, the staff handbook can contain additional contractual provisions relating to matters such as sick pay or holiday entitlement.

    Typically, the staff handbook will also provide guidance on various other employment-related matters, for example, health and safety within the workplace, or your disciplinary and grievance procedures, although these examples are by no means exhaustive.

    As an employer, you must have a set of grievance and disciplinary procedures policies that adhere to the Acas Code.

    Additionally, your employees are entitled by law to paid time off for holidays, meaning it makes sense to outline these provisions in a handbook.

    In short, the staff handbook is intended to provide your workforce with a one-stop information point, enabling individuals to access all the info they are likely to need in relation to their employment with you – setting out what is expected of your employees, as well as what they can expect from you, through a clear set of guidelines on how issues will be handled within the workplace.

     

    What is the difference between the employment contract or staff handbook?

    Policies from the company handbook may be included in your employment contracts. Sickness and holiday rights, for example, are contractual terms since they must be included in the statement of employment particulars that every employee is required to receive under the Employment Rights Act. These terms are also frequently included in a corporate handbook. Note that implied terms are also included in the employment contract, such as a general obligation to follow all reasonable management directives and an obligation for both parties not to violate the duty of trust and confidence in any employment relationship.

    However, policies that are relatively minor or non-detrimental and are not a part of the employment contract, they can be amended as and when necessary in accordance with current law without needing your employee’s consent.

    By excluding policies and procedures from the employment contract, you shield yourself from a claim of breach of contract if you break a rule.

    A disciplinary and grievance policy, for instance, must be included and adhere to the Acas Code. An Employment Tribunal’s compensation award could increase by 25% if the Acas Code is not followed in a disciplinary or grievance case. The procedure should therefore be set out in a policy so that if it is not followed exactly, there won’t be a contract breach.

     

    Written statement of particulars

    When a worker or employee begins work, the employer must provide them with a paper outlining the primary terms of employment, known as the “written statement of employment particulars“. It is not a contract for employment.

    The written statement is made up of:

    • the principal text (sometimes referred to as a “principal statement”)
    • a longer written declaration

    The principal statement must be given by the employer on the first day of employment, and the larger written declaration must be given no later than two months after employment begins.

    Employees or workers must be informed of any modifications to the written statement by their employer. They have one month from the change to complete this.

    On or before the individual’s first day of employment, they must get a written declaration of the terms of employment. This should specify whether or whether the employee handbook and staff guidelines are legally binding and are a component of the employment contract.

    Some of the regulations in the handbook may still be legally enforceable even if the written statement makes no mention of whether it is a part of the contract.

     

    Does the law require you to have a staff handbook?

    Notwithstanding the benefits of the staff handbook, there is no statutory or other legal requirement to provide your employees with a handbook of any description. However, the staff handbook can be an essential component of an effectively managed workforce, not least in providing a practical way of collating all workplace policies and procedures in an easily accessible format.

    For medium or large-sized organisations a copy of the staff handbook can usually be found in a digital format on the staff intranet site. However, for smaller employers, you can either provide a new-starter with their own hard copy of the handbook or, at the very least, signpost employees within their contract of employment as to where they can locate a copy.

    It is important to bear in mind that although there is no strict legal requirement to make a staff handbook available to your workforce, or to do so in any particular format, some workplace policies typically contained within a staff handbook can be mandatory, or must meet certain minimum requirements.

    By way of example, employers with five or more employees are legally required to have in place a documented health and safety policy, whilst any disciplinary and grievance procedure must meet the minimum statutory requirements prescribed by the ACAS Code of Practice.

    In either case, workplace policies and procedures can play a significant role in ensuring that employees understand their rights and responsibilities at work, and that any issues are resolved quickly and effectively.

    As such, where a comprehensively drafted staff handbook incorporates these policies and procedures, it can demonstrate a commitment to your workforce to treat them fairly and in accordance with the law, as well as providing you with an ideal opportunity to minimise the risk of any workplace disputes.

     

    Benefits of having a staff handbook

    It guarantees that you have carefully considered your employment practises and enables you to clearly explain these to your staff. A thorough handbook guarantees that there are no misunderstandings regarding the conduct and behaviour you anticipate from your employees or what they can anticipate from you as their employer.

    The handbook guarantees uniformity in how employees are handled; managers and business owners can consult it when responding to employee inquiries, making decisions, or enacting performance-related remedial measures.
    The employee handbook is typically provided to new hires. By being more familiar with the company’s rules and processes, this aids in their integration into the culture of the organisation. Additionally, some handbooks provide information about the benefits provided to employees. The employee handbook also lays out expectations and rules for how their company will handle any complaints or issues about their work.

    You can use it to explain your business, promote your company’s beliefs, and list any advantages an employee might have working with you. To better understand how things “are done” within an organisation and to fit in with the team and corporate culture, this is very helpful for new hires.
    An expertly written handbook serves as an invaluable document proving you have appropriate policies in place and have adhered to your duty of care toward the employee should an employee bring a tribunal claim against you or seek other legal redress (assuming you have behaved in a way that is in line with the policies set out in the handbook).

     

    What to include in your staff handbook

    There is no strict format for a staff handbook, where there will be features common to all across various different organisations. That said, each handbook must be tailored to the specific needs of each employer, based on the nature of the business and workforce involved.

    For those employers starting from scratch, you may want to begin with a few key policies, adding to this as your business grows and capacity allows.

    Below we set out some of the key workplace policies and procedures that are typically contained within a staff handbook. Regardless of how simple or comprehensive, the handbook should always be set out in a clear and logical format, including a contents page for ease of reference, categorising the information provided and using appendices to attach any lengthy documents.

    It is also important to clarify which workplace policies and procedures are incorporated into an individual’s contract of employment, thereby clearly and expressly making those provisions contractually binding on both parties.

     

    Staff handbook structure

    Starting work

    The introduction to the staff handbook is an ideal place to explain the culture, vision and values of your company or organisation. You can then go on to set out practical information and guidance about starting work. In addition to confirming receipt of the staff handbook, this could include the following:

    The introduction to the staff handbook is an ideal place to explain the culture, vision and values of your company or organisation. You can then go on to set out practical information and guidance about starting work. In addition to confirming receipt of the staff handbook, this could include the following:

    • Induction procedure
    • Criminal record checks
    • Probationary period
    • Trade union membership
    • Matters relating to training, development and promotion

     

    Disciplinary and grievance procedures

    In relation to disciplinary and grievance matters, issues may arise in respect of misconduct in the workplace to the fairness of any redundancy procedure. It is therefore essential to have clearly defined procedures, ideally contained within the staff handbook, so that employees are fully aware of how any workplace dispute will be handled.

     

    Disciplinary

    Your disciplinary policy should set out the standards of conduct expected of employees and the procedures that will be followed for dealing with any misconduct or poor performance, as well the possible sanctions that may result from any disciplinary action, including summary dismissal for gross misconduct.

    Written disciplinary rules and processes must be provided, and they must specify who will handle disciplinaries, meetings, time frames, decisions, and appeals. Employers are required to follow the ACAS Guidance on the ACAS Code to the best of their abilities and make sure that their disciplinary procedures are in complete compliance with the ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures (ACAS Code). This means that an effective disciplinary procedure should be transparent, documented, allow for prompt and private resolution of any problems, and be based on justice and non-discrimination.

     

    Grievance

    Your grievance policy should explain how to formally raise a grievance within the workplace, what steps will be taken to investigate and resolve any grievance raised, and what an employee can do if they feel that the matter is not satisfactorily resolved.

    All employers are required to establish a written grievance procedure that complies with the ACAS Code and guidelines, just as the disciplinary procedure. If an employee’s grievance results in a successful tribunal claim, the tribunal may punish either party for unreasonably failing to follow the Acas Code by increasing or decreasing the employee’s compensation by up to 25%. This is similar to how the disciplinary process above works if the minimum standards of good practice for employers and employees in relation to grievances set out in the ACAS Code are not followed. To make sure that workers agree that the grievance procedure is fair, it is a good idea to involve employees (and where applicable, Trade Union Representatives) in the formulation and update of the system. A written grievance procedure must at the very least include the following information: who the grievance should be addressed to, how to file a grievance, and the steps that will be taken during the grievance procedure.

     

    Culture, vision, values

    In addition to the legal compliance aspects, the handbook can also be used to promote key information about the organisation’s culture, history, vision and values. Including this detail in the handbook sets a clear message to employees that these elements are part of the fabric of the organisation.

     

    Conduct at work

    Given the importance of ensuring any new-starters are fully aware of the standards expected of them, you may want to include information relating to conduct at work early on within the contents of the staff handbook. This could include any or all of the following:

    • Attendance at work and notifications of absences
    • Dress code or appearance at work
    • Standards of performance at work
    • Performance and appraisal procedures
    • Smoking or vaping on work premises
    • Consumption of alcohol and substance misuse
    • Use of company premises and company property
    • Computer, email and internet use
    • Use of mobile phones in the workplace
    • Use of social media during and outside working hours
    • Confidentiality and data protection
    • Any conflicts of interest
    • Receipt of gifts, bribery or other corrupt behaviour

     

    Diversity and dignity at work

    Any well-drafted staff handbook should include a statement making it clear that you are committed to valuing diversity within the workplace and that unlawful discrimination will not be tolerated.

    It is also good practice to incorporate within your staff handbook any other policies that specifically relate to the welfare of your employees, including:

    • Bullying and harassment at work
    • Victimisation in the workplace
    • Stress at work
    • Reporting wrongdoing in the workplace, ie; whistleblowing.

     

    Financial entitlements at work

    The contract of employment will normally set out all core contractual matters, including an individual’s salary or pay, although the staff handbook will often cover additional or supplementary financial matters relating to the following:

    • Pay arrangements and deductions from pay
    • Overtime arrangements and time off in lieu
    • Business travel or other work-related expenses
    • Any company car and other contractual or workplace benefits
    • Pension entitlement and opting out of pension schemes.

     

    Taking time off work

    Again, the employment contract will normally outline the basis upon which an employee will be entitled to statutory or contractual sick pay when taking time off work through ill health. 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.

    The handbook should also include detailed provision relating to non-sickness related absences, including:

    • Holiday entitlement and holiday pay
    • Maternity, paternity and adoption leave and pay
    • Shared and unpaid parental leave
    • Time off for family emergencies, including compassionate leave
    • Requests for flexible working

     

    Health and safety at work

    As indicated earlier, as an employer with five or more employees, it is a legal requirement to have a documented heath and safety policy. In any event, you are under a legal duty, so far as is reasonably practicable, to maintain the health and safety of your employees and other persons who may be affected by any business activities or being on your premises.

    It is therefore advisable to set out within your staff handbook provision relating to your health and safety procedures, including:

    • First aid and designated first aiders
    • Fire safety on the premises
    • Personal safety at work
    • Procedures in the event of an accident

     

    Termination of employment

    There are a number of different issues to consider when an employee leaves your employment, either through resignation or dismissal. These can include:

    • Notice periods for dismissal and resignation
    • Working notice and pay in lieu
    • Return of company property
    • Any other conditions on leaving work
    • Redundancy and retirement

     

    Culture, vision, values

    In addition to the legal compliance aspects, the handbook can also be used to promote key information about the organisation’s culture, history, vision and values. Including this detail in the handbook sets a clear message to employees that these elements are part of the fabric of the organisation.

     

    Flexible working

    The statutory flexible working regime gives employees the opportunity to submit a written request to alter their current working arrangements, should be implemented by businesses through a policy. In response to such a request, the employer is required to act “reasonably” and to inform the employee of its decision within the “decision period” (three months, which can be extended if the employer and employee agree). If the employer is able to accept the request without a meeting, the employee and employer will then talk about it. After then, subject to an appeals right, the employer may approve the request, suggest an alternate kind of flexible working, or reject it with justification. A well implemented flexible working policy can help to reduce the risk of discrimination claims being made against a company.

     

    Dress code

    You might want to establish a clothing code. Employers may impose dress standards so that clients can quickly identify their employees, either for reasons of health and safety or to make sure that their staff members adhere to the company’s brand identity. There is a lot of room for flexibility, but you should be careful not to discriminate. Employers may have differing standards for men and women, but they are not permitted to treat one gender more unfavourably. If they do, they risk being accused of unlawful discrimination. Restricting the wearing of religious attire may also cause problems. Dress code guidelines were recently published by the Government Equalities Office.

     

    Receipt of document

    Employees should sign off that they have received the handbook, studied it, and understood its policies. If your handbook contains contractual policies, it’s crucial to do this. This could be accomplished by checking a box, confirming through email, or signing a printed copy of the manual.
    When an employee is not made aware of the employee handbook during the induction process or is not made aware of any revised versions, issues can emerge.

    Once each employee has received a copy of the handbook for the first time, it is always important to get their written affirmation. If an employee can show that they were not informed of the terms and conditions in question, it is unlikely that their dismissal would have been fair even if they had violated a crucial aspect of their employment.

     

    Conflict of interest

    Employees should inform their line manager if they have any concerns about a direct or indirect engagement or interest in any business operation that could prevent them from acting independently in the best interests of the company. For instance, if an employee held interests in a direct competitor before being hired, they would need to disclose them to management.

     

    Is the employee handbook contractually binding?

    The employment contract is legally binding, thus anything covered in the handbook that is further explained within is likely to be regarded as a component of the contract (and thus legally binding), such as the method used to determine compensation, an employee’s right to yearly leave, etc. As a result, these shouldn’t be altered without proper consultation with the affected workers. You can state whether or not a particular feature is contractual in the employee handbook for those that are not covered by the employment contract. It is typically advantageous to make such provisions non-contractual so they can be altered as needed without obtaining the workforce’s approval. You can include a “flexibility provision” in the manual that provides you the authority to make adjustments as needed over time (e.g. when employment law changes).

     

    Reviewing the document

    Regularly reviewing your handbook is crucial, especially if your organisation has undergone changes. You should evaluate it at least once a year, according to advice. If you make reference to any statutory rates in the policies, such as sick pay rates, then they must be reviewed twice a year, in April and in October.

    Staff should have access to the most recent version of the manual if there are any revisions or modifications. Keep in mind that you normally need to undertake a process of consultation and obtain your employees’ approval before making changes to contractual policies. In order to prevent situations including a breach of contract or allegations of unfair dismissal, do this. Generally, non-contractual policies permit changes to be made without consulting the staff.

     

    Making changes to the employee handbook

    In general, a non-contractual benefit may be modified or withdrawn at any time, whilst a contractual matter will typically require the employee’s express agreement. Crucially, your ability to make changes to the staff handbook will very much depend on whether or not the relevant provision forms part of the employee’s contract of employment. As with any contractual provision, absent any consensual variation, you will not usually be able to make any changes unilaterally.

    Terms that are part of the employment terms are contractual requirements that cannot be varied by either party without agreement. Changes are typically discussed with the individuals affected, or through collective bargaining when a trade union is recognised at work.
    If the employee does not agree to the change, they may refuse to work under these new conditions, or reject the change, working under protest whilst instigating a breach of contract claim. The employee could even resign, claiming fundamental breach of contract and claiming constructive dismissal.

    As such, it is always sensible to embark on a consultation process prior to making any changes, explaining the rationale for the changes, ascertaining the views of affected employees, listening to any alternative suggestions and providing employees with reasonable notice in the event that changes are going ahead.

    Further, having implemented any change, you must ensure that all members of staff are provided with an updated version of the handbook.

     

    Mistakes to avoid with staff handbooks

     

    Making the handbook contractual

    Many businesses claim (frequently in both the employment contract and the handbook) that the employee handbook is contractual in order to guarantee that employees abide by the policies outlined in it. The issue with this is that it means you must adhere strictly to the rules and guidelines in your employee handbook or you risk breaking the terms of your employment.

    Even if you must adhere to your rules and procedures, there may be instances when this is not always practicable, and you may require the flexibility that having an employee handbook contractually enforceable prohibits.

    More significantly, when laws, best practises, and your internal procedures change, you will need to periodically revise and update your employee handbook. With a non-contractual employee handbook, you may typically make the necessary adjustments and inform your workforce, however, you will need to ensure that other factors are not relevant, such as if a benefit has become a custom and practice, which would require a process to be followed.

    If your staff handbook is a contractual document, you must always consult the workers before making changes. This can take a lot of effort, and it could also keep you from making the adjustments needed to support your company’s expansion.

     

    Being difficult to follow in practice

    it is fair for your staff to anticipate that you would adhere to the procedures outlined in your handbook.

    So be careful not to put information in your manual that will not always be feasible to follow. For instance, if you promise to look into and respond to a grievance complaint within five working days, it will be exceedingly challenging for you to do so if the complaint is sophisticated and includes a tonne of supporting documents and proof.

    Depending on the nature of the complaint, it is preferable to state that you will look into it and give a resolution within a fair amount of time.

    Similar to this, avoid including a lot of management advice that may be challenging to implement and annoy staff members. Create a separate management guide titled “How we manage our personnel at business name” if you do need management advice, rather than including it in the manual.

     

    Train managers

    Focusing your efforts on an effective written document will not be enough – you have to ensure that employees are aware of the handbook and that managers are trained and capable to implement the policies contained within in the handbook in a consistent and compliant manner.

     

    Not keeping it up to date

    The handbook should be considered an ongoing concern. Changes in the law and changes in company policy and practices must be reflected in the handbook to avoid grounds for confusion, non-compliance and complaint.

     

    Remember company culture

    Your staff handbook is an ideal platform to articulate and communicate your company culture ot your workforce. This supports embedding the behaviours and values you seek to encourage among your teams.
    If you are considering using a staff handbook template, consider how this is helping you to promote your culture and values, and whether you should tailor the content to be specific to your organisation both in terms of what you say about your culture, but also looking at the language and tone used – does it need to be more friendly and informal to reflect your organisation and employer brand?

     

    Staff handbook FAQs

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    Legal disclaimer

    The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.

     

    Author

    Gill Laing is a qualified Legal Researcher & Analyst with niche specialisms in Law, Tax, Human Resources, Immigration & Employment Law.

    Gill is a Multiple Business Owner and the Managing Director of Prof Services - a Marketing & Content Agency for the Professional Services Sector.

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