How to Draft an Employee Handbook

1. Collating existing information.
2. What to include in an Employee Handbook.
3. Implementing a new Employee Handbook.

1. Collating existing information

Most organisations will already have a range of written rules and procedures which operate on a day-to-day basis.
• Regardless of their size, most organisations will also have a set of accepted practices, many of which will not be in written form.
• Commonly, in organisations where the majority of rules and procedures are unwritten, there will be variations in the interpretation of similar situations by different managers and employees.
• With the continuing expansion of employment law, particularly in the area of discrimination laws which were consolidated into the Equality Act 2010, it is more important than ever to develop an unambiguous and uniform set of policies and procedures for the organisation.
• Before any attempt is made to produce a draft Employee Handbook document, all existing standards, rules, policies and procedures should be collated.
• This requires the collection of data, documents and ideas that currently are in operation, were in operation that have fallen into disuse, or which have always been considered necessary but have never been drafted.
• A committee should be established, chaired by a senior member of staff, to agree the nature and scope of the existing written rules, policies and procedures. An agreed written draft of each area should then be produced.
• A list of the unwritten rules, policies and procedures should also be drawn up and a written draft of each item on the list should be produced. In many cases, this will require the coordination of individual views in relation to to the standards and types of rules that are to be applied
• Once a set of draft policies, rules or procedures have been developed, consideration should be given to consultation with employees,. Without this, a lack of understanding or resistance to co-operate with the new rules may exist.
• A sensible timescale should be applied to any consultation process, to ensure that the development of the range of documents needed is not delayed unnecessarily. Organisations that have no written set of rules at that point in time will not have made the production of a Handbook a priority in the past. A target for completion is therefore desirable.
• The Employee Handbook should not include any individual terms and conditions of employment. These should be issued to each employee in the form of a written statement of the main terms and conditions of employment, as currently required by statute.
• In this way, unnecessary administration costs will be avoided by constantly having to change the Employee Handbook. In fact, most written statements will refer to and cross reference sections of the employee Handbook.

2. What to include

Many employers will include a mission statement within any introduction to the content of an Employee Handbook. This statement will put into context all of the standards and policies that the Handbook contains to assist employees through an overall impression and description of the culture that the organisation wishes to create.
• An Employee Handbook will often be split into three distinct sections. These are rules, policies and procedures.
• The rules which are relevant and which apply to a particular organisation emanate from the overall nature of its business and its customers. However, in most instances, there will be a set of rules to cover attendance and timekeeping at work, absence from work, health and safety, holidays, as well as a set of general rules relating to acceptable and unacceptable conduct in specific situations.
• An organisation will also have a set of “dos and don’ts” relevant to their own products or services.
• It is recommended that all organisations produce a coherent policy in the areas of:

o Equal opportunities

o Time off

o Flexible working

o Lay off, short time and redundancy

o Retirement

o Recruitment and selection

o Maternity and paternity leave

o Electronic mail and internet usage

• There are many other areas which may be the subject of a written policy, including public interest disclosures, personal records and data protection, prevention of harassment and bullying, alcohol and drug misuse, and compassionate, bereavement or special leave.
• It is essential that comprehensive procedures are produced to confirm how the organisation will deal with discipline, grievances, appeals and disciplinary situations. These should include actions on the part of the employee which the organisation considers to be gross misconduct offences, leaving the employee involved liable to dismissal without notice.
• All such procedures should be kept under most constant review to ensure that any suggestions of unfairness in the way that they are operated, can be minimised.
• Checks should be made to the completed Employee Handbook, to ensure in particular that there are no inconsistencies within different policies or procedures that deal with a common issue.
• All Employee Handbooks should reserve the right for the employer to review, revise, amend or replace the contents of the Handbook and to introduce new policies from time to time to reflect the changing needs of the organisation.
• Whilst the Employee Handbook will contain information which may not change at all during an employee’s length of service, a clause reserving the right to amend policies and procedures will allow the employer to react quickly to the changing dynamics of the business environment.


3. Implementing a new Employee Handbook

• Once the contents of a new Employee Handbook are completed, the organisation must decide how best to introduce the document and also how best to incorporate them into the Contract of Employment of the employees.
• Where there has been a previous disparate set of written and unwritten rules, policies and procedures in operation, care should be taken not to introduce fundamental changes to any of these areas without proper consultation with the employees.
• Employees should therefore be made aware firstly of the fact that a new Handbook is being developed and also of the proposed date for the document to be completed. Consideration should also be given, where appropriate, to the setting up of discussion/consultation groups to enable employees to openly discuss the contents of any document following its issue to each employee.
• Dependent upon the size of the workforce, and also on the size and administrative resources of the organisation, consideration should also be given to conducting individual meetings with the entire workforce in advance of any new document being introduced.
• In all situations a signature should be obtained from employees, confirming that they have received a copy of the Handbook and also that they have understood and agreed with all of its contents.
• Where employers have members of staff for whom English is not their first language, consideration should be given to producing key areas of the document in different languages or by allowing the employee to be accompanied by a fellow employee or colleague who can translate any areas of uncertainty for the employee concerned.
• Individual copies of the Employee Handbook should ideally be sent or made available to each employee. Many organisations however prefer to retain an electronic copy of the document, which can be accessed at any time by all employees.
• This allows easy and cost-effective amendment of the document and obviously removes any printing costs
• The previous practice of retaining a single Employee Handbook in a particular office or place within the business has declined Although this is still an acceptable practice, Difficulties will inevitably obviously arise where more than one employee requires access to the document at the same time, particularly if they wish to retain it for any period of time.
• In order to ensure that the contents of the Handbook are applied consistently across the organisation, many employers develop a guidance manual for the managers and supervisors responsible for the implementation of the rules, policies and procedures. Indeed, those organisations which have a structured approach to training and developing the skills of their managerial staff in relation to the implementation of company policies will have a considerable advantage if they are ever called upon to defend the fairness and reasonableness of their rules and procedures or how they are implemented.
• This is particularly important in emphasising an organisation’s commitment to equal opportunities. Regular discussion groups and training on the subject make clear the organisation’s commitment to the issue.

143 thoughts on “How to Draft an Employee Handbook”

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