How To Implement A UK Employee Handbook [10 Important Questions To Consider]
Whether you have an existing UK employee handbook, or you’re considering creating one, there are some things you need to bear in mind before you start making changes to your HR processes.
An employee handbook is a guide (often online rather than in the physical sense) that provides guidance and information for employees about working at your company, and it’s great for keeping information in one place. You must update it with relevant legal changes and with COVID-related policy updates, but it doesn’t have to be daunting to create and implement.
Before We Start . . .
Do you need some help drafting and implementing your UK employee handbook?
If so, get in touch here with the HR Star team. We’d be happy to talk with you.
A Special Benefit From Using An Employee Handbook
There is one special benefit you will enjoy after implementing or updating your employee handbook and it can be summed up in one word: Confidence.
When you have policies and procedures clearly documented, agreed upon, and regularly updated, you will enjoy the confidence that comes with knowing that your business has an extra degree of professionalism and legal protection should something go wrong.
An employee does the wrong thing? You’ll feel confident knowing that you have a system and process to manage the situation.
Want to demonstrate to new employees joining the business that they’ve made the right decision joining a well-organised company that values fairness and transparency? Your new team members will feel confident when they see these values documented in the employee handbook.
Prevention is the best cure. It’s why we highly recommend you implement and/or update an employee handbook in your business.
10 Important Questions To Consider When Creating And Implementing A UK Employee Handbook
While some UK staff handbooks cover almost all aspects of employment, some keys areas should be included and others that are nice to have.
Below are ten important questions to consider.
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1 – Are employee handbooks compulsory?
Employee handbooks are not compulsory, but there are specific terms that are a legal requirement to communicate to all employees. Employees must receive a written statement of particulars of employment within two months of starting work which will include details about their salary, start date and hours (under the Employment Rights Act 1996.)
Legally, all employees must be made aware of specific company policies, including the grievance and annual leave policies, and often these are communicated during a company induction. If they aren’t detailed in the written statement of particulars of employment, they can be outlined in the handbook. While the written statement of particulars of employment is specific to each individual, the employee handbook applies to everyone.
2 – Should I download a UK employee handbook template from the internet?
In theory, you could, but there are risks included in this approach.
Firstly, you don’t know how up-to-date the template is, and secondly, although a template may outline the policies that should be included, you still have to write them and ensure they are legally correct and specific to your company. Thirdly, without an HR or legal specialist, you may not know what other policies to include and whether they should include legal updates.
It’s advisable to work with a HR consultant and discuss what legal policies you need to include, how to word them and which other policies would suit your business and culture.
3 – What should I include in an employee handbook?
It’s common practice to start with an introduction about the company, the values, culture and ethos and then outline the policies. There are many aspects of employment you could include, but some specific areas are critical:
- Disciplinary procedures (including the appeal process) – disciplinary and dismissal procedures will usually be included in the contract of employment. They must be accessible in writing and be compliant with the legal guidelines. However, it’s good practice to also include the policy in the employee handbook with the appeals procedure.
- Grievance procedure (including the appeal process) – your grievance policy must follow the Acas code and include the appeal process. There are many reasons an employee may wish to raise a grievance, so a clear procedure must be accessible. The procedure may be included in the contract of employment, but the details may be outlined in the handbook.
- Capability procedure – this concerns the employee and their ability to do their job and is separate from conduct. A policy should outline the support available, the process for managing and reviewing performance and the formal procedure.
- Health and safety – if you have more than five employees, you must have a written health and safety policy which should include the arrangements in place.
- Annual leave entitlement – details about an individual’s annual leave entitlement will be outlined in their written contracts, but more general information can be covered in the handbook—for example, details about how to carry over holiday entitlements, how to request annual leave etc.
- Sickness policy – this should include details about statutory sick pay (SSP) and when an employee is eligible for it. You could include a link to the Government website so that employees can view the rate of SSP at any given time. A policy should also include the process if an employee is sick and who they should contact etc.
- Personal harassment policy – the process of making a complaint will often be included in the grievance policy.
- Equality and diversity – you must ensure that you comply with UK law regarding equal pay legislation and do not discriminate against employees or job applicants.
- Maternity, paternity, adoption and shared parental leave policies and procedures – these should be written in line with statutory guidelines, and according to the specific enhancements your company offers if applicable. You will need to include how to qualify and the payment details etc.
4 – What other areas of employment might I consider in the employee handbook?
There are lots! It’s worth considering what employees, new or otherwise, need to know. Some policies may be more about the company culture. For example, the dress code used to be a common area to include, but might be less relevant, or different now that many employees are working from home. Other areas could include policies on:
- Alcohol and drug use
- Performance appraisal
- Internet, social media and email use
- Data Protection
- Equal Opportunities
- Flexible and home working
- Compassionate and bereavement leave
- Time off for dependents
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5 – How do I implement an employee handbook or amend an employee handbook?
Many companies will ensure the handbook is discussed during the new starter induction. Some will ask new starters to sign to confirm they have been made aware of the handbook so that if a dispute further down the line occurs, they can confirm that the employee had access to the handbook.
If you decide to amend any of the existing handbook policies or you add new policies, then you must ensure that this is communicated to all employees and they should be given access to the new handbook.
6 – How can technology help with an employee handbook?
Technology is a useful way to store your employee handbook in these strange times as it must be easily accessible, often on the company intranet. One way to ensure all employees have a copy of the handbook and receive all updates is by using version tracking technology to store and update the handbook.
7 – Do I need to include COVID-19 policies and procedures in an employee handbook?
You should include COVID-19 policies and procedures in your employee handbook. Workplace policies and practices have been affected significantly due to COVID-19, and many must be amended or created to adhere to legal changes or best practice. Some policies or changes will be temporary, and others will be longer-term. The following areas are examples you should review or include in your handbook:
- Sickness policy – you need to amend this to include what to do if you think you have COVID-19, sickness pay around COVID-19 and self-isolation rules and best practice.
- Annual leave conditions and entitlement – this needs to be amended as changes to the Working Time Regulation 1998 allow employees to carry holiday from 2020 over for up to two years.
- Health and safety/ return to the workplace – the pandemic has changed the way we work, and a temporary policy may be included to outline workplace safety habits, including handwashing, mask-wearing, social distancing and PPE guidelines.
- Working from home policy – if you didn’t have this policy before lockdown started, you certainly need one now! It should cover flexible working guidelines, data protection, mental health support and risk assessments.
- Compassionate and bereavement leave – you may wish to review your existing policy to include extra support for those with loved ones affected by COVID-19.
Here’s a handy free resource to take away: 20 Questions To Answer Before Your Employees Will Perform At Their Best After Lockdown.
8 – Should the UK employee handbook be a contractual requirement?
It’s up to you. One reason why you may choose not to make the handbook contractual is so that you can change it without formally consulting with employees. While it’s unlikely that you will need to make significant changes to policies, there are occasions where you will need to (COVID-19 is one example) and a non-contractual handbook gives you the flexibility to change.
If you are choosing not to make the handbook contractual, you should document this clearly in the contents by saying that it does not form part of the terms of the employment contract (unless stated otherwise). You can also add that you may need to, on occasion, amend the contents of the handbook. If a handbook is contractual, you may be in breach of contract if you do not follow a policy or if you change it without consultation.
9 – How often should I review the employee handbook?
The reality is the law changes, and unpredicted events like a pandemic occur. Therefore, you need to ensure that your handbook, and the policies and procedures it contains, reflect the changes. You should review it annually, but ideally more regularly to ensure it’s legally correct and follows best practice. UK legislation changes usually take effect in April and October so these might be good months to review your existing policies.
There are many policies and procedures you could include in your employee handbook, and these will vary depending on your industry, size and culture. Regardless of whether you include lots of policies or only the essential ones, it’s important, now more than ever, to keep them updated. COVID has created more policies and forced us to review many of our existing ones. These must be reviewed as the pandemic develops and must be easily accessible to all employees remotely.
10 – Who should I get to help me write and implement my employee handbook?
Prevention is the best cure so it makes sense to produce a quality set of policies and procedures that match your high level of professionalism and fairness.
Rather than risk the stress and headaches that arise when then things go wrong due to a poorly constructed staff handbook, our advice is to seek the help of highly experienced HR consultants who specialise in this area.
Regardless of whether you ask HR Star to help you to implement an employee handbook process or you seek assistance elsewhere, it is well worth getting it right the first time.
If you would like to talk to us about our process for implementing or updating your employee handbook and how we have helped many employers like you to prevent future headaches, please get in touch now.
Would You Like Some Help With Your UK Staff Handbook?
Need some help drafting and implementing your UK employer handbook?
Get in touch here with the HR Star team.