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Staff Handbook - Short Form

This is a short staff handbook that contains the key policies and procedures that are either required by law in the UK or which are highly desirable from an HR and legal perspective. It is suitable for a start-up or small company that is at a relatively early stage in its growth. As a guide, this handbook is normally suitable for a company with up to 25 employees. As the company grows, the handbook will need to be reviewed and possibly expanded. For larger companies, we recommend you use the Staff Handbook - Long Form.

When should you use a Staff Handbook?

A staff handbook is designed to be a place where employers set out all of their policies, procedures and rules that apply to their staff. It guides employees as to what an employee should do in a particular situation, and it sets out what is expected from employees and from their employer. It is also sometimes referred to as an employee handbook, or employee manual.

The staff handbook should be clear and concise and should be easily accessible to all employees. It should also be regularly reviewed and updated to reflect changes in the law and practice, as well as changes to the employer’s requirements and experience.

A good staff handbook should cover the key policies and procedures that are required by law, which normally include:

  • Disciplinary procedure
  • Grievance procedure
  • Whistleblowing policy
  • Health and safety policy
  • Data protection policy 

It should also cover those that are highly desirable from a legal perspective, because of the additional protection they provide to the employer, for example:

  • Holiday policy
  • Sickness absence policy
  • Social media policy
  • Anti-bribery, corruption and fraud policy
  • Anti-tax evasion policy
  • Equal opportunities policy
  • Anti-discrimination and harassment policy
  • IT policy
  • Homeworking policy

Why is a Staff Handbook important and why should you use a Staff Handbook?

As explained above, there are some policies and procedures (like the disciplinary procedure and grievance procedure) that are legally required, and others that are highly desirable from a legal perspective. If rules and expectations are not clearly set out, HR issues and disputes in the future are more likely.

What are the common pitfalls of a Staff Handbook?

  1. Not having a staff handbook
    Without a staff handbook, there will be a lack of certainty and clarity as to the expectations of the company. In addition, the company may not be complying with section 1 of the Employment Rights Act 1996, which could lead to financial penalties in the Employment Tribunal.

  2. Having a contractual staff handbook
    The employment contract contains the terms and conditions that govern an employee’s employment. Generally, changes cannot be made to it without the consent of both parties.

    Normally an employer will want to make changes to its policies and procedures regularly, and in certain situations may not want to be tied to following them to the letter. For these reasons, it is usually advisable for the staff handbook to be non-contractual, so that it does not form part of the employment contract and changes can be made. Otherwise, it will need to obtain staff agreement to any changes, however small.

    Even with a non-contractual staff handbook, staff are still required to comply with it, because by law there is an implied duty to follow lawful and reasonable instructions of the employer (and this is normally underlined by a specific obligation in the employment contract to comply with the policies and procedures in the staff handbook).

    The staff handbook should therefore clearly state that it is not contractual i.e. that it does not form part of the employment contract.

  3. Including too much legalese and detail
    The best staff handbooks are clear, concise and easy to navigate and understand. Staff handbooks that are long, unwieldy and full of jargon are unlikely to be used or understood.

  4. Inconsistencies between the employment contract and staff handbook
    It is really important that the staff handbook and employment contract are consistent with each other.  In particular, there are normally sections in both documents covering holiday and sickness absence, and these should align. This avoids the potential for disputes between the employer and employee at a later date as to what the relevant HR requirements were.

  5. Not giving employees a copy of the staff handbook
    The staff handbook should ideally be given to the employee on the first day of employment, and it should be stored in a readily accessible location (e.g. the company intranet). Employees should also be informed when the staff handbook has been updated, so that they can familiarise themselves with any changes to the policies and procedures.

  6. Not keeping the staff handbook up to date
    Employment law in the UK changes frequently. For example, there were changes to the law in 2021 on the types of family leave that are available. Using a PocketLaw template, and regularly reviewing the finished handbook, ensures that an employer remains legally compliant when changes to the law happen.

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