Employee Handbook & Company Policies: The Foundation of Successful HR

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Employee Handbook Guide for UK Employers

A strong HR foundation is key to your business’s success. The employee handbook is a critical component of this foundation!

As a business owner, you know that things don’t always go according to plan. However, this shouldn’t stop you from creating a rulebook in the first place, and that’s where a well-crafted employee handbook comes into play.

Investing in a comprehensive employee handbook doesn’t just create a positive work environment – it can save you from costly legal battles later on. By outlining expectations and procedures clearly in your handbook for employees, you’ll reduce the risk of disputes with your employees.

Our guide covers the essential policies you need to safeguard your business and employees. Plus, we’ll reveal the legal risks of not having an employee handbook.

Employee Contract V Employee Handbook: What Is the Difference

What is an Employment contract?

An employment contract is a statement of particulars setting out the key terms and conditions of employment, such as the job title, work location, rate of pay, hours of work and holiday entitlement. This is something that employees are legally entitled to from day one and employers face penalties for failing to provide one.

What is an Employee Handbook?

An employee handbook is a manual for your organisation. It contains useful information about the organisation that sets out what employees need to know about working for you. 

A company staff handbook sets out the core values and ethos of your organisation and is the standard for the kind of behaviours you expect to see, along with the rules and procedures that will be used in order to enforce those values.

An employee handbook may not be a legal requirement, but it is certainly something that all companies should have, irrespective of their size and sector.

Types of Policies an Employee Staff Handbook Should Contain

A handbook for employees should contain general information applicable to all staff. Examples of what to include are:

  • Your company mission statement: We Recommend your staff handbooks contain a brief introduction and background on when/how your company was founded and so on.
  • Holiday booking procedures: Your employee manual should detail how employees should request annual leave and the rules regarding any periods where annual leave cannot be taken etc.
  • Absence reporting procedures: Your company’s staff policy handbook should also detail the rules on how, when and to whom an employee should report their absence or lateness.
  • Conduct and capability: The standards of conduct employee handbook section will include policies such as disciplinary policies which set out the types of behaviour you do not expect to see, how breaching those rules will be dealt with and who has the authority to do so. Capability procedures will set out how underperformance will be managed.
  • Grievances, bullying and harassment: The company’s grievance procedure section detailed in your company policy handbook sets out how an employee should raise any work-related concerns they may have. It will set out a means of doing this whether formally or informally and how those concerns will be dealt with. If there is a separate policy for dealing with bullying and harassment, this should also be made clear in the staff handbook.
  • Equal opportunities, and diversity: It is vital that an organisation commits to equal opportunities within its organisation. This policy detailed in your company handbook will set out that commitment and outline how it will meet that commitment through areas such as recruitment and selection, training, promotion and pay.
  • Email, internet, social media and mobile phone policies: Your company’s reputation can be seriously damaged by careless or malicious posts. In this digital age, it’s vital that rules regarding online communications and internet use are made clear to staff within your employee policy handbook.
  • Anti-bribery policies: it is important, particularly in the financial sectors, or businesses involved with insurance products, that employees understand what constitutes a bribe and that this is prohibited. These policies included in your employee handbook guidelines also set out rules for receiving and giving gifts and hospitality.
  • Whistleblowing: employees are able to make what is known as protected disclosures without being subjected to a detriment. Such disclosures could relate to fraudulent financial matters, child protection, safeguarding and care standard breaches and so on, so it’s vital this information is disclosed within your employee policy handbooks. These policies are very important in making this clear and also stating what constitutes a protected disclosure, along with the implications for making deliberate and malicious allegations.
  • Company vehicles: if you allow the use of company vehicles including related company policy info within your HR staff handbook is a must, these policies will state the rules regarding their use, and if there is any financial liability for any accidents that occur.

The above is not an exhaustive list, but these are the main types of policies and contents a well-written employee handbook should contain. In addition to the above example employee handbook contents, or as part of the handbook, any rules and procedures specific to your industry or sector can be added.


Employee handbooks should not be unnecessarily lengthy and should be as accessible as possible- after all, you want your employees to read them. For example, it is not necessary to have maternity or redundancy policies detailed in your employee procedure manual
unless you offer enhanced payments over and above the statutory minimums.

Does The Staff Handbook Form Part of The Contract?

Some staff handbooks are contractual, and others are not.

It may be that certain policies detailed in the employee manual are contractual, and others aren’t. If for example, your vehicle policy states that employees will be liable for damage caused by their carelessness or neglect, the policy must state that any rights to deduct from wages are contractual before deductions can be made.

Do Hardcopies of Staff Handbooks Have to Be Issued or Can They Be Issued Electronically?

Businesses strive to be as environmentally friendly as possible, and many businesses aim to be ‘paperless’ as far as reasonably practicable.

With the average staff policy handbook running into 50-plus pages, that is a lot of paper, especially if you have 100-plus staff! Think before you print, the key thing is that employees receive a copy or can access a copy easily. It is fine to issue staff handbooks electronically via email or file sharing.

Can Employee Policy Handbooks Be Changed or Updated?

Standard non-contractual policies can be changed and updated.

If the company staff handbook is contractual or certain policies are contractual, an employer can change these policies, but they will need to consult with their workforce before implementing the changes. For example, any policies or rules relating to pay should not be unilaterally changed within employee policy handbooks , otherwise, this will amount to a contractual breach.

Employee Handbook Guide for UK Employers

3 Legal Risks of Not Having an Employee Handbook?

Employee handbooks are vital, and all businesses should have them. Without one, you run the risk of the following:

  1. No rules and procedures: Without an employee procedure manual in place it will make managing HR matter very difficult and time-consuming. You will also be likely to have a higher staff turnover, resulting in increased recruitment and training costs.
  2. Lost tribunals: it will be very hard for an employer to defend themselves against claims of unfair dismissal if they have no rules in place. It also means that employee disputes can escalate and toxic work cultures be allowed to develop. Having a detailed staff policy handbook solves this issue.
  3. Lost business: when tendering for contracts, prospective clients usually expect to see evidence that a company is committed to equal opportunities and will have the appropriate rules in place to protect any of their staff who come into contact with a client’s workforce and their business. The best way to demonstrate this is to have a standards of conduct employee handbook in place.

Can An Employee Refuse to Read and Sign the Employee Handbook?

It is important to get a signed declaration that staff handbooks have been received, read and understood.

If an employee refuses to sign the employee handbook it’s important to try and establish what their concerns are. For example, if there is a misunderstanding regarding a particular policy, you should try and clarify this.

If the employee is just being awkward, perhaps they think if they don’t sign the employee policy handbook, the rules contained with it do not apply to them. This is not the case. Instead, you should write to the employee to state that the employee handbook has been provided and a record to that effect will be placed on their file.


Employee handbooks languishing on a dusty shelf are useless. Ensure that all staff handbooks
are distributed across your workforce and that all necessary training needed to implement the policies contained in the employee policy handbook is given.

TIP! Employers should periodically redistribute staff handbooks and remind staff of key policies. For example, distribute your disciplinary rules and procedures prior to work functions and periodically remind staff of how they should report their absences.

Need support? Speak to a designated advisor

Avensure HR experts offer a customised employee handbook writing service tailored to the needs of your businesses. Whether you need help reviewing your current staff policy handbook or creating a new one, we’re here to assist you.

As an Avensure client,  you’ll have access to your designated advisor who can provide you with expert guidance and support whenever you need it. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us for help; we’re here to support you every step of the way. For support Click Here: Avensure Contact!

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Elena Boura