Why should I have an employee handbook (or why should a lawyer review my handbook?) – Part 2Brenda Charnock
In our first article on employee handbooks, we discussed how having one can help satisfy your minimum legal obligations as an employer. Let’s look at how an employee handbook can lay the foundations for a better workforce management strategy.
Make things run smoothly
Employees like to be communicated to in a straightforward way so an employee handbook is a great place to collate all your internal policies and procedures. It’s your handbook, so you can put in it what you like! Anything that could be helpful to the smooth running of your business from an employee management perspective can be included.
Cleary stating in your handbook what your policy is on things like expenses, company cars, booking annual leave etc. improves the chances that your employees will get their admin sorted in the way it needs to be, without wasting management time by continuously raising the same question over and over again because there is no central place of reference.
Giving some thought to the tone of voice, design of your handbook and how it will be distributed and embedded into your business are all important factors to work through so that it fits with and supports your culture, as well as being useful to and accessible by your employees.
Help your managers as well as your employees
Employment law is complicated; that’s why we are here to help.
Although a handbook is aimed at individual employees – it’s a key tool for managers who are responsible for the performance and wellbeing of your workforce, providing a useful framework for their management and support and to ensure that they are dealing with matters consistently.
Having policies in place on things like disciplinaries, grievances, maternity/paternity/shared parental leave, and flexible working etc. ensures that you have a practical guide for the managers of your business to help them do their job. How they manage day to day issues involving your workforce can have an immediate impact on the wider culture of the business, it’s day to day operational and financial performance and if handled badly, expose you to financial and reputational risk from employee claims.
Setting the standards
A handbook is the perfect place to set out the standards that employees are expected to meet and what will happen should they fail to meet those expectations. It can incorporate procedures around things like reporting sickness absence, timekeeping, uniform or substance misuse etc. Anything (within reason) that your business may want to enforce can ideally be set out in the handbook – whether it relates to the efficiency of your business, or how you expect your employees or customers to be treated.
It is helpful when an employer needs to take disciplinary action against an employee that it can point to a clear rule in an employee handbook, supported by a record of the employee having received and read it (always something to think about when you are on-boarding a new employee or changing your policies and procedures).
Building your culture and setting the tone
A great way for a business to ‘set the tone’ and its cultural aspirations is by including an overview of its mission and values at the beginning of an employee handbook. The way a business does things ‘around here’ is important to the development of its internal culture, and potentially a valuable business asset which can benefit your employee attraction and retention strategies.
Making sure your handbook reflects your business, who you are and how you want to be seen both internally and externally is a fantastic opportunity to codify your cultural positioning and use that to add value to your business.
For example, do you have a bring your dog or pet to work policy (we love dogs in our office!)? Something that you might already be doing even informally, like allowing pets in to the workplace, might actually have some legal implications for your employees that you should think about addressing in a policy. Also, having a policy on something like bringing animals to work for both existing and future employees might be seen as a real benefit of working for your company.
It’s brilliant for us to see employers thinking much more expansively about how they can use their employee handbook to benefit employee attraction and engagement, and more and more are doing so with some great results. However we also see handbooks that are setting a tone in ways which that were not really intended… which can be really unhelpful.
Employment law is one of the fastest moving areas of law. Some of the significant changes in recent times include new equality legislation, abolition of the mandatory retirement age, increases in permitted unpaid parental leave, the introduction of shared parental leave and entitlements to request flexible working to mention just a few. By spring 2020 further legislative changes will be introduced to require paid parental bereavement leave and increases to the reference period for calculating holiday pay.
Unless your business is really diligent about keeping its handbook up to date, it may miss ensuring that all the changes find their way into the handbook which can leave it out of date and potentially fall foul of the law.
When facing a claim from an employee, often the starting place for the Employment Tribunal is the employee handbook, the policies contained within it, how those policies are followed and consistency across the business. Don’t get caught out by having a handbook as a tick box exercise only as Tribunals frown on this and defending a claim can often be an uphill battle.
LexLeyton can help you draft or update your existing employee handbook. If you would like a free review and consultation with one of our expert employment solicitors to help you get started with a set of bespoke recommendations please register here
Read the first part of our series on the employee handbook: