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A PBL Guide To: Employee Staff Handbooks

They may not be the most interesting documents, but employee staff handbooks provide a very necessary and important function in the underpinning of any well-run business. So what exactly is an employee staff handbook? What should and shouldn’t be included in one? And is it even a legal requirement? Read on to find out the answers to these questions and more.

What is an employee staff handbook?

An employee staff handbook is essentially a company guideline. This document is a written summary of an employer’s policies, procedures and practices. Employers should ensure that it is accessible to all of their employees.

For employees, staff handbooks can prove to be a useful “go-to” tool for everyday matters like reporting sicknesses and absences or annual leave procedures, to more serious concerns regarding health and safety, disciplinary procedures or reporting grievances. For employers, it is also convenient way to compile company goals and values in one document.

If a handbook is classed as contractual and considered as incorporated into the employment contract, changing the terms of the handbook without giving notice to the employees could result in a breach of contract by the employer. A non-contractual handbook allows some more flexibility as policies can be altered and changed without requiring employee consent.

Overall, the use of a well written and regularly updated employee handbook can help to create a more productive company culture as it allows employees to know exactly what is expected of them and it can also boost morale as staff will feel their employer has exercised ‘reasonable care’ towards them.

Is an employee staff handbook a legal requirement?

The short answer is no.

You may be surprised to find out that employers are not actually required by law to provide their employees with handbooks. However, there are certain policies employers are required to bring to the attention of their employees. For example, all businesses with five or more employees are legally required to provide a general written statement on their health and safety policy.

What should be included in an employee staff handbook?

Every business is different and so would require a uniquely tailored handbook that contains information specific to that establishment.

Nevertheless, here are some of the most important policies and practices to include as standard in any employee staff handbook:

  • Company Introduction and Values

Although this is not a legal requirement, including an introduction to the company, its culture, values and mission statement is a useful way for employers to set the tone for the workplace.

  • Healthy and Safety Policy

As previously mentioned, employers with five or more employees have a legal duty to provide a written statement of their health and safety policy. They must also ensure that it is brought to the attention of the staff.

  • Diversity and Equal Opportunities Policy

Employees need to know what counts as acceptable and unacceptable behaviour in relation to Diversity and Equal Opportunities. This policy should cover non-discrimination on the main characteristics including gender, race, ethnicity, marital status, disability, religion, sexual orientation or age. It should also cover the business’ complaints procedures, training, confidentiality and non-acceptance of harassment policies.

  • Maternity/Paternity/Parental/Adoption Leave Policy

It is important for business to make sure they have sections set out for each process:

  • Maternity Leave should include:

Procedure for staff to inform employer of pregnancy, antenatal appointments, protection during maternity leave, Statutory Maternity Pay, employees returning to work after maternity.

  • Paternity Leave should include:

Staff eligibility for paternity leave, length of paternity leave, Statutory Paternity Pay.

  • Parental Leave should include:

Staff eligibility for parental leave, length of parental leave, non-payment / payment of parental leave.

  • Adoption Leave should include:

Staff eligibility for adoption leave, length of adoption leave, Statutory Adoption Pay.

  • Data Protection Policy

The safe storage and processing of employees’ data is a legal requirement. Employers must ensure they have a data protection policy in place. This policy should include how sensitive staff data is handled, how it will be used, who it will be shared with and for how long it will be kept. Additionally, this policy should also set out the employee’s rights regarding access and restriction of access to data, including how to lodge a complaint with the Information Commissioner’s Office.

  • Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures

Employees must know how they can raise a grievance against their employer and the procedure to follow if they are the subject of a disciplinary proceeding. The procedures should comply with the guidelines set out by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS).

It is important that employers regularly review their handbooks and that they ensure their employers, especially managers, know and comply with the policies, practices and procedures set out in the employee staff handbook.

How we can help?

If you’re still not sure about what to include in your employee handbook, seeking advice from an employment law professional is a great place to start as a poorly drafted handbook can leave employers and their businesses in a vulnerable position when it comes to legal action.

Pure Business Law are specialist employment solicitors with over 20 years of experience in employment matters. If you would like some advice, do give our employment team a call on 01234 98089 or email us at

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