What is an ‘employee handbook’ and should you have one?
This article is directed at businesses planning on hiring staff, as well as businesses who already have employees on the books, but need to understand the paperwork they are required to have in place. Let’s dive straight in!
If you didn’t already know, contracts are the foundation of every business, and employment should be the same.
It isn’t just a legal requirement for you to provide your employees with an employment contract the day they start their new role, but it’s crucial for both employee and employer.
Before you ask – yes, you can just copy and paste a random contract from somewhere, but we wouldn’t recommend it. It is highly likely that it’s not going to protect either employer or the employee. You need to have a bespoke contract drafted for your specific business. That way it’ll have the right clauses in place that will fully protect you.
You don’t want either of you to get into a sticky situation because your contracts aren’t up to scratch, right?
How to avoid it? Get your contracts in place.
This is the ‘How-To Guide’ for your business.
It’s your chance to emphasise your mission statement so your employees are aware of what matters to you and the business, and exactly what you expect from them.
An employee handbook is like an add-on to the employment contract. It can be written in a much less serious tone (because we all hate legal jargon!)
You can add clauses into your employee handbook that wouldn’t necessarily be in the employment contract, like what maternity or paternity right the employee has, detail about employee benefits or what your social media policy is all about.
What points MUST be included?
- Health and safety policy
Safety first. It’s in your interest as a business owner to keep your employees healthy and safe (and happy), whether they work in your premises or remotely. For this reason, having a policy setting out your general approach and how hazards are eliminated or reduced is super important. You’ll need to do a risk assessment as a first step so you can identify any risks an employee might be exposed to in the office. Can’t think of any?
Some or all of your employees may work remotely (like mine do). This doesn’t mean there aren’t still risks. For instance, they should be aware of their fire exits and their desk set-up should be ergonomically appropriate to prevent repetitive stress injuries.
Without that work/home separation, working from home can have its toll on our mental health and so you would be well advised to cover this. Ultimately, you want to make sure that your employees are encouraged to turn to someone in your business if their mental health is suffering (or if they need additional equipment to make them more comfortable).
As a heads up, your health and safety policy only needs to be put into writing when you have five or more employees, otherwise, it is OK to explain your policy in training when their employment begins. If you’re writing an employee handbook, just add it in. Remember, it doesn’t have to be War and Peace!
- Disciplinary/dismissal policy
You’ll need to set out the steps your business will take if your employees do something negative that warrants disciplinary action. This will range from an informal discussion all the way to a written warning. (Hopefully, this never has to happen, but always be prepared)
Following due process as set out by employment legislation (which you need to know) is how you’re able to terminate their employment should a series of disciplinary action-worthy events occur and without being hit by an unfair dismissal claim.
- Grievance policy
Bullying isn’t always left on the playground, regrettably, and so you need to make clear to your employees that any workplace bullying, harassment, or unacceptable behaviour will not be tolerated by you. It’s so important to your business that your employees are happy so tell them to whom they should turn to if they fall victim to any such bad behaviour.
Your business is your baby; if you want to protect it, follow these steps.
How can we contact you to find out more?
At Jamieson Law, we pride ourselves on helping small businesses understand their legal obligations and trying to make everything that bit less daunting. This includes helping out with HR support and fixed-fee contract reviews and contract drafting services.
If you feel like you could benefit from some one-to-one advice on your responsibilities as an employer, or any other legal matter, please take advantage of our free 15-minute legal advice calls.
These calls are our way of giving back to the business community. You can book a slot here – https://calendly.com/jamiesonlaw