What Should Be in Your Staff Handbook in 2023

Posted on Wednesday, 29th Mar '23

Duane Jackson by Duane Jackson


A staff handbook should define an employer’s policies and procedures, what is expected of their employees, and what they expect of their employer.

Staff handbooks are not a legal requirement in the UK, but they can be efficient tools. Companies may write staff handbooks when they have scaled in size and want their policies and codes of conduct to be fully visible for all employees. Doing so can help streamline the onboarding process of new employees and protect a business in the aftermath of an employment claim.

Along with a contract of employment, it is recommended that all new staff members should receive a staff handbook on the day they start work with their current employer so that company rules and expectations are clearly laid out.

Staff handbooks can cover a myriad of subjects which typically differ from business to business. However, most staff handbooks should contain certain must-have content like company policies and absence reporting for the benefit of employees and their employers.

So, what are employees likely to find in their staff handbook? This article focuses on the helpful topics and sections that should be included.

What is a Staff Handbook?

A staff handbook is a guide for a new employee. It should provide a clear outline of company policy, procedures, and rules so they fully understand their rights and responsibilities and which guidelines to follow should a dispute arise. A common area of dispute is when an employee suffers injury or illness and is unable to work.

Employees should always have access to their staff handbook, which can be stored on a company system, so that it is easy to locate. Employers may wish to amend their policies and procedures and should immediately update their staff handbook to reflect any company changes. This is normal practice as staff handbooks aren’t usually part of any employment contract but are helpful documents that store all relevant and up-to-date information.

Occasions may arise when a provision in a staff handbook is deemed to be, or has become, part of a contract of employment. An employee must then decide whether to start legal proceedings to make their employer follow this through, or even claim for breach of contract should the employer not follow it. Such disputes may involve the payment of bonuses, for example.

Nevertheless, staff handbooks are there to support employees, ensure they are aware of company rules and expectations and protect all parties.

What Should be Included in a Staff Handbook?

UK employers are not obligated to provide a formal staff handbook for their employees. However, they must ensure key policies and procedures are put down in writing. They may also seek an International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) certification to establish the credibility of their business and the trust of employees. ISO 20000 (Service Management) and ISO 27001 (Information Security) are examples of common ISO standards.

A staff handbook is a useful resource for keeping company policies and procedures in one place. There are certain policies that employers must include in a staff handbook for legal reasons, such as disciplinary procedures. Similarly, there are other items that do not need to be included such as smoking policies and dress code, but it is good practice to do so.

For example, an employee expecting a baby may feel uncomfortable about asking their line manager about parental leave. However, if a company’s parental leave policy is included in a handbook the employee can look it up themselves.

Sections and topics to include in a staff handbook include:

1. An introduction for new hires

Though not a legal requirement, a company introduction is a positive way to begin any staff handbook. It provides a platform for employers to speak directly to their staff and set the general tone of the workplace. Company values, objectives and mission statements may all be included in this section. It can also be used to inspire new starters, especially on their first day.

2. Health and safety measures

It is a legal requirement for any company with five or more employees to have a written statement of their health and safety policy. Importantly, this should clearly describe how staff should use equipment and how work can be carried out safely with injuries avoided. It should also list the details of health and safety representatives within the company so that employees are aware of who to contact with any questions or grievances about health and safety.

3. Disciplinary and grievance policies and procedures

By law, a staff handbook should clearly define procedures to follow when staff have a grievance against their employer or if they are subject to disciplinary action themselves. This should include details on how to appeal against a company decision in line with Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) guidelines.

There should also be provisions for dealing with issues around employee performance and capabilities within a staff handbook.

4. Equal opportunities and anti-discrimination policies

Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion initiatives are essential in modern business. Companies must adhere to equal opportunities and anti-discrimination policies and these should be clearly set out in their staff handbook. This relates to cases of harassment and discrimination for reasons including:

  • disability
  • race
  • ethnicity
  • gender
  • sexual orientation
  • marital status
  • religion
  • age

Instructions should be provided for employees to follow if they believe equal opportunities or anti-discrimination policies have been breached. Details about company training programmes, promotion, and recruitment could also be included under equal opportunities.

5. Data protection policies

Employers are legally required to take robust measures to ensure the safe storage and processing of personal data relating to their employees. This is likely to include data that could be targeted by cybercriminals, such as:

  • an employee’s name
  • address
  • date of birth
  • bank account details
  • National Insurance number
  • other sensitive information

Details of a company’s data protection policy including how data is processed, handled, and protected should be included along with employee rights regarding access to data.

Employees have a legal right to a ‘privacy notice’ which explains how all personal data is used, who has access to it, and how long it will be stored on company files. Instructions for lodging a complaint with the Information Commissioner’s Office should come under this section.

6. Internet, email and social media policies

It’s likely companies will monitor staff activities on work devices including the use of the internet, email, and social media and provide details of their policy relating to these tools. This will include their expectation of employees when using these tools including both company and personal email accounts, along with the consequences of breaching protocol when staff visit restricted websites, for example. It can help to protect employers from any misconduct and abuse of social media from employees.

7. Flexible/remote working policy

The number of employees working from home or on flexi-time has become increasingly common, particularly since lockdowns were introduced during the pandemic. A staff handbook should include details of a company’s approach to flexible and remote working so employees know where they stand. This section should also include processes for time recording and reporting along with company policy and procedure relating to staff retirement or redundancy.

8. Absence and time off policy

Employees may reasonably take time off from work for a wide range of reasons. Therefore, a staff handbook should include details of company policies relating to annual leave, sickness absence, maternity, paternity, and adoption leave in addition to bereavement and compassionate leave or leave taken to care for a dependent. It is also good practice for companies to provide details of their absence management procedure including return-to-work policies in cases of short or long-term staff absence.

9. Drug and alcohol policy

Some staff handbooks will include a drug and alcohol policy section. This is likely to spell out their expectations of employees relating to drug and alcohol consumption when driving, in the workplace, and even at work-related social functions.

Companies that carry out random testing must mention this in the privacy statement section of a staff handbook. This is particularly appropriate for companies in the logistics, haulage, and transportation industries, or those whose employees operate public transport.

10. Whistleblowing policy

A whistleblowing policy is designed to ensure staff can raise concerns about wrongdoing or malpractice without fear of reprisal including victimisation, discrimination, or dismissal. Local authorities, banks, building societies, insurance companies, a plc or US-listed company must give details of their whistleblowing policies in their staff handbook. Other businesses or organisations are not required to do this but often chose to include it in the interest of transparency. Some companies take a dim view of employees accepting gifts in their line of work and also include details of their Bribery Act policy.

How Should a Staff Handbook be Written?

A staff handbook should be clear, concise, and well-structured so that it is easy for employees to understand. This could mean grouping company benefits together in one section and using short sentences and simple language rather than jargon-heavy prose.

It is advisable to write your staff handbook in a first draft and then share it with your legal team or solicitor to ensure it is legally safe. When that part is done, use a copy editor and proof-reader to scan and amend your work and spot any typos.

Where Can I Store My Staff Handbook?

As mentioned at the outset, the list of policies and procedures that could be included in a staff handbook is extensive and largely dependent on a company’s circumstance and the nature of the industry it operates within.

When your staff handbook is complete, the next challenge is finding a safe place to store it so it can be accessed by your employees. A hard copy has limited benefits as it cannot be easily updated with new policies and will probably require regular reprinting which will be expensive.

A better storage and access option is to use cloud-based HR software to store your staff handbook along with any other important and sensitive company documents. With this method, storing documents in clearly-defined folders and sections becomes easy and all data will receive the highest level of protection for peace of mind.

Can we Store your Staff Handbook in the Cloud?

Staffology offers market-leading and cloud-based HR and payroll software services including a facility to store your staff handbook. Can we help your business? Contact us now.

Duane Jackson, March 29th, 2023

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