Whether you have one employee or a whole workforce, it is important to be clear with your employees about how they can expect to be treated. While they are working for you your employees will have a wide range of questions about everything from working hours to maternity leave. By anticipating these questions you ensure they get a prompt and fair answer. The employee handbook is a valuable tool because it helps employers to be consistent and it allows employees to avoid the embarassment of asking about various policies.
This post explains the basic principles that need to be covered in an employee or staff handbook and how to access our free employee handbook template.
To get the best out of the template at the bottom we recommend reading the post first.
The role of the employee handbook
All employers like to think that they treat their employees fairly but employees tell a different story. The reality is that an employee’s experience can vary dramatically from employer to employer.
A good employee handbook is foundational to a great employee experience. Poor communication is the root of many issues and the primary role of the handbook is to provide a single reference point for employees that will answer questions they have throughout their employment.
A good employee handbook should be:
Handbook vs. contract
The employee/staff handbook is different from the employment contract and it is crucial that the relationship between these two documents is clear.
The employment contract is the legally binding agreement between employer and employee. In general, like any other contract, it can’t be altered without the consent of both parties. Even if you use a similar template for each employee, every employee’s employment contract is distinct and will contain its own distinct terms.
The employment contract covers the core terms of the employment relationship. This includes, among other things:
The staff handbook is a single document that applies (at least in small organisations) to all employees. It sets out company policies that relate to employment. These policies don’t form part of the employment contract and can, therefore, be changed from time to time without the consent of employees.
Under UK law, where there is a conflict between handbook and contract, the contract always prevails.
What must be covered in an employee handbook?
While the employment contract is the right place for important details specific to the employee, there will be lots of details that (a) apply to all employees and (b) might change over time. These are best dealt with in the employee handbook, which is then issued to all employees.
Here are some of the key areas often covered in an employee handbook:
Contract vs handbook
The relationship between the employment contract and the employee handbook can be confusing so it’s a good idea to explain this distinction at the start of the handbook.
While salary will be dealt with in the contract, you can cover additional details in this section like when in the month the employee can expect to be paid and how things like expense claims and overtime are dealt with.
The number of days holiday that an employee is entitled to will be dealt with in their employment contract but additional details like how to request holiday and how holiday requests are assessed are best dealt with in the handbook.
This section will cover things like office hours, flexi-time, working from home policies, etc.
Systems and data security
This section will explain to employees what you expect in relation to practicalities like passwords for online systems and usage of email and social media on work computers.
How to manage ongoing updates
The employee handbook can quickly become a headache if it is not updated. Here are a few practical tips to keep the handbook up-to-date without causing confusion:
|Store your handbook online to avoid confusion between multiple versions using a service like Dropbox or Google Drive.|
|As soon as the board approves a change in approach, don’t delay in updating the handbook.
For more tips on managing trustee input read our post on how to run good trustee meetings.
|Tell employees about any substantial updates - this highlights important changes and makes sure they remain aware of the presence and location of the handbook|
|Avoid duplicating information in other documents like separate expenses policies. If a topic does need a separate policy, refer and even link to this policy in the handbook but don’t repeat the details.|
How to use this employee handbook template
The free staff handbook template covers all of the sections discussed above. It is available as a Word document (.doc) by entering your email address below. If you prefer Google Docs you should be able to import the template easily.
Large parts of the handbook template will be applicable to many organisations but you should read through the template carefully and adapt it to your needs. Areas where customisation is crucial are marked with square brackets.
Download the template
This 11 page Word document is pre-populated with lots of information you can use right away and areas for you to customise. If you find it helpful please consider sharing this page!