Staff handbooks: A quick guide for new employers

Once your employee numbers begin to grow, a staff handbook can be an important document to outline expectations. Here’s what you need to include…

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A staff handbook is a useful document to have if you employ people, as it helps sets the expectations on both sides. But if you’re a new employer, how do you know what you should include?

The minimum legal requirements

Handbooks are typically made up of policies that all staff and the company should abide by. There are a range of policies that cover yours and your employees’ responsibilities, which you have to include by law, such as:

  • How you will conduct any disciplinary actions
  • How you will deal with any grievances
  • How you and your staff should meet Health and Safety law
  • And, if staff deal with data, a policy on Data Protection

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What else should you include in a good staff handbook?

The above is all fairly standard stuff, we’re sure you’ll agree. But what about policies that aren’t required by law? There’s a few out there you should really include, even if you don’t necessarily have to.

First off, a policy on equality and diversity will cover yours and your employees’ responsibility to be part of an inclusive and fair workplace – regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, or any other protected characteristic.

Read more: how to run an employee induction 

You should also have policies for various types of leave that staff are entitled to and how they will be handled. For example, there’s maternity and paternity leave as well as how you might handle sick absences – compassionate leave is often another grey area so it could be worth including although it’s difficult as it does vary depending on the individual circumstances. You might choose to leave this up to your discretion.

Finally, another policy you should really include in your staff handbook is one on capability and poor performance. This will cover how you will go about managing members of staff who aren’t performing as they should, and if necessary evaluating their capability to do what is expected of them in their role.

Optional policies – what else could you include?

Now we’ve got past the ‘must haves’ and ‘should haves’, we get onto more optional policies – although that really depends on your perspective.

In this list are things like smoking policies – you may wish to restrict smoking breaks for example or stop the use of e-cigarettes; sickness reporting – when and how would you expect staff to notify you of any illness? You may not trust this sort of news via text for example; that’s just to name a couple.

One policy that you may have thought about in recent months thanks to various news stories, including a rather inconsiderate tweet from a Bristol stockbroker, is a social media policy. This could include ensuring that staff have a ‘disclaimer’ stating “views expressed are my own” or something similar, or even stop them from tweeting about certain topics entirely.

There are a whole host of other things that you may wish to include depending on your industry sector or workplace arrangements, but these are some of the key things you need to think about when compiling a staff handbook for your employees – whether you’re a new employer or not.

One final thing to think about is whether your handbooks are contractual. We would suggest that they are not, giving you the flexibility to update and issue new policies without needing to consult with staff – if they were contractual it is also worth remembering that not following any policies to the letter on your part could even result in a breach of contract claim.

So there you have it, a quick guide to staff handbooks – one of the many important parts of employing staff for the first time.

Kirsty Senior is co-founder and director at citrusHR, an HR support service that offers off and online assistance specially tailored to UK small businesses.

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