How to write an employee handbook

Blogs 10 Feb 2021

What should be in your employee handbook? FSB Employment Protection explains the benefits of a staff handbook and which policies you should include.


Employee handbooks, often given to your new employees during their induction process, introduces your business’ rules, policies, procedures and expectations. What you include depends on your industry and business needs, and some policies are required by law.


Hannah Thomas, employment solicitor for FSB Employment Protection, answers common questions about creating or reviewing a staff handbook.

Read on for more guidance and advice to help you build your staff handbook. You can also download a supporting document written by Hannah to help you build your staff handbook. 


Are employers required to provide employee handbooks?

Unlike the legal requirement to provide a written statement of terms and conditions, commonly provided as an employment contract, there’s no legal requirement for having a staff handbook. However, there are benefits for providing a staff handbook.

What are the benefits of an employee handbook?

It reduces legal risk.

For example, with an equal opportunities policy or dignity at work policy, this can provide employers with a defence in the case of an employment tribunal that they’ve taking reasonable steps to prevent the discrimination occurring. However, this only applies if the policy is enforced and staff are trained on the policy.

It provides consistency.

Employees understand the expectations of them and their entitlements. Staff and managers are able to have a better understanding of procedures, and it also sets out your values as an employer.

What should be included in a staff handbook?

There are a few policies which are required by law, but these may already be included in your contracts of employment. The template employment contract available to FSB members on the FSB Legal Hub includes a disciplinary policy and grievance policy, although the procedures are non-contractual.

Staff should be informed about the workplace pension scheme that you have put in place, though again this information may already feature in their employment contract.

If you have five or more employees, you must have your health and safety policy in writing. A template is available on FSB Legal Hub.

Whistleblowing policies are only required for a few employers, such as those providing financial services and who are regulated.

 “There are some policies that we would strongly recommend for all employers, like an equal opportunities policy and dignity at work policy,” says Hannah Thomas. “They provide defence for an employer and reduce legal risk.”

Other recommended policies include:

  • Data protection and privacy notices
  • Policies dealing with absences from work, for example holidays or sickness absence
  • Any policies which are relevant to your particular industry or organisation

There are over 60 template policies on the FSB Legal Hub that can be tailored to suit your needs and included within your handbook.

Writing and structuring your handbook

Introduction

This gives your employees a brief overview of the handbook and includes an introductory statement. It usually reflects on your values and ethos as a business.

Policies

In this section, you will include the policies themselves. These can be grouped by contractual and non-contractual status, or by topic and type. For example, you could group family-friendly policies together.

However you decide to lay out your handbook, each policy must state whether it’s contractual or non-contractual, or any part of the policy which is contractual.

Receipt of handbook

Employees should acknowledge receiving the handbook and indicate that they have read and agreed to the polices. It’s important to do this if your handbook includes contractual policies. This could be by ticking a box, confirming via email or providing a signature on a hard copy of the handbook.

How should I provide the handbook?

Your next step is to decide how your staff handbook will be distributed to your team. PDF copies could be sent electronically, a physical copy provided to the employee or it could be uploaded onto an accessible portal or intranet.

How often should I review the handbook?

It’s important to review your handbook regularly, especially if there are changes in your organisation. It’s recommended that you review it at least once a year. If you refer to any statutory rates in the policies, for example sick pay rates, then these will need reviewing in April and October each year.

If there are any updates or amendments to the handbook, staff should be able to access the latest version. Remember that when you’re amending contractual policies, you’ll generally need to follow a process of consultation and have your employees consent to the changes. This is so that you avoid any scenarios around a breach of contract or unfair dismissal claims. Non-contractual policies usually allow adjustments to be made without staff consultation.

Got more questions?

For further guidance, you can check the factsheet on the FSB Legal Hub on how to create a staff handbook, or call our 24/7 legal advice line to speak to an employment expert.


A man and a woman stand in a factory looking at a piece of paper

 

HR advice you can trust

FSB Employment Protection is your go-to for HR advice, available 24/7. Speak to employment solicitors for advice, download template documents and have peace of mind with employment tribunal insurance.