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Introduction to this document

Staff handbook guidelines

Our guidelines for managers on staff handbooks will help you when assembling a staff handbook from our various policies and procedures. They will assist you in deciding which policies and procedures should be contractual and which not, and what should go in the employee’s contract of employment and the staff handbook.

No legal obligation

You’re not obliged by law to have a staff handbook but we recommend that you do as it enables you to have all of your key policies, rules and procedures written down in one place and applying to all of your staff. From your perspective, it means you’re ensuring consistency amongst your workforce and that you have procedures in place governing common workplace events such as redundancy and disciplinary action and that you’re communicating how issues such as harassment and discrimination will be dealt with.  In a worst case scenario, it will also enable you to demonstrate to an employment tribunal that you have implemented clear and fair processes and policies. However, strictly speaking, your only legal obligation is to issue all employees (and, from 6 April 2020, all workers) with a written statement of employment particulars not later than the beginning of their employment (or engagement)  in accordance with s.1 of the Employment Rights Act 1996.

Contractual status

Our guidelines provide you with information on the contractual status of staff handbooks and the relative implications of the handbook, or parts of it, being expressed to be either contractual or non-contractual.  To make this even easier for you, we’ve also given you guidance on what types of topics you might wish to consider putting in the contractual part of the staff handbook, and similarly for the non-contractual part. There are no hard and fast rules on this as it can vary from employer to employer and industry to industry. In addition, we’ve given you guidance on amending the staff handbook in future, and how you go about doing this will depend on whether you’re amending a contractual or non-contractual section. In order to help you understand what provisions you should put in the contract of employment/written statement of employment particulars and what should go in the staff handbook, we’ve clarified what needs to be in the contract of employment/written statement of employment particulars for employees (and workers) in order to comply with s.1 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (as it applies from 6 April 2020) and what types of additional employer-protective clauses you might also want to insert, having regard to the particular circumstances of the employee’s (or worker’s) case. Finally, our guidelines also confirm that it’s generally acceptable to have a clause in the contract of employment which sets out at least the minimum mandatory information relating to a statutory matter (such as a clause on holiday entitlement and pay or sickness absence/sick pay) but then with further detailed rules on how the provision operates in practice going in the staff handbook. This avoids creating a lengthy contract of employment containing a huge amount of detailed information and means that you can have a relatively short, specific contract of employment with a staff handbook containing all the details of the matters applying to the whole workforce.