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Staff Handbook Template (What To Include?)

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 do we mean by 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 (see below).

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.


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.


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

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

Disciplinary and grievance procedures

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

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.

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 s/he feels that the matter is not satisfactorily resolved.

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.


Making changes to the employee handbook 

Your ability to make changes to the staff handbook will very much depend upon 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.

A non-contractual benefit may be modified or withdrawn at any time, whilst a contractual matter will typically require the employee’s express agreement.

Where the employee does not agree to any change, s/he 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 some form of consultation process prior to making any changes, ascertaining the views of your workforce, listening to any alternative suggestions and providing employees with reasonable notice in the event that change is inevitable.

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


Need assistance?

The staff handbook, although not a mandatory requirement, represents a key document in effectively managing your workforce.

It is within this document that you can comprehensively set out any additional rights and responsibilities between you and your employees, supplementing any core contractual matters contained within the contract of employment – not to mention collating all your workplace policies and procedures in one easily accessible format.

However, even where you already have a well-drafted staff handbook in place, it is important that you regularly review and update any workplace policies and procedures to ensure that they remain fit for purpose and meet the minimum statutory requirements at any given point in time.

By seeking expert legal advice from an employment law specialist on the contents of your staff handbook, you can feel confident that the matters contained therein continue to reflect the needs of your business, and your workforce, and are in accordance with the law as it stands.

As employment law specialists, we can assist if you have any queries relating to disciplinaries in the workplace, such as when and how to issue a written warning. Speak to our experts today for advice.


Written warning letter FAQs

Is it a legal requirement to have a staff handbook?

While not required by law explicitly, a staff handbook is an effective tool for employers to meet certain legal duties while helping to shape organisational culture and support employee engagement and culture.

What should be included in a staff handbook?

There is no set prescriptive formula, but most employee handbooks will typically detail employment and job-related information, HR policies and employee benefits and may also promote the company culture and values.

Is an employee handbook considered a contract?

The staff handbook can be deemed to be legally binding as an extension of the employment contract, provided there is no express provision to the contrary within the handbook.

Last updated: 16 February 2020

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