The benefits of reviewing employee handbooks in the new year

Last updated: December 13th, 2022

It’s been a busy year in employment law and if your organisation hasn’t reviewed your employee documentation recently, 2023 would be a good year to complete this exercise.

In this article we’ll look at the benefit of having an up-to-date employee handbook that accurately reflects the most recent legal developments as well as your organisation’s culture and values.

Do I need employee consent before we change our handbook?

Before you make changes, you may wonder if you first need to consult with employees about any changes you intend to make. Contract law states that an employment contract cannot be amended unilaterally and the consent of both parties is required.

So, if your employment contract states that the Employee Handbook forms part of the employees’ terms and conditions of employment, the consent of the employees is technically required.

Even if the Employee Handbook (in part or in total) forms part of the employment contract, there may be a ‘Variation Clause’ permitting you to make amendments to the employment contract without employee consent.

Variation clauses tend to be limited in that employers will only be permitted to make reasonable changes to non-material terms and conditions of employment.

In general, employment contracts state that the Employee Handbook does not form part of the employment contract. This approach allows employers to make changes to policies and procedures without first seeking the consent of all their employees.

Staff Handbooks – use clear language

A good rule of thumb for Employee Handbooks is to use plain English that is easily understood.

It’s very useful to have a clear set of policies and procedures that minimise the risk of misinterpretation by either staff or management. Your policies and procedures should aim to be as transparent as possible.

The clearer your policies are, the less room there is for misunderstandings. Avoiding confusion is exactly what workplace policies are designed to do.

What goes into my employee handbook?

Employee Handbooks generally set out your policies and procedures in relation to some key HR areas including but not limited to the following:

  • Grievance policy and procedures
  • Disciplinary policy and procedures
  • Annual leave
  • Family-related leave
  • Equality
  • Dignity and Respect
  • Email, internet and telecommunications use
  • Confidentiality
  • Data protection
  • Absence
  • Dress Code
  • Right to Search
  • Probation periods
  • Notice periods

Culture and values

As well as these policies and procedures which together with the terms and conditions in the employment contract set out the technical details of the employment relationship, the Employee Handbook also provides you with an opportunity to put your organisation’s culture and values down in black and white.

The Employee Handbook is likely to be a new hire’s first port of call if they are unsure about anything and you can make a good first impression if the employee appreciates the tone, values and content expressed in your handbook.

What about the legal effect of the Employee Handbook?

As discussed above, when drafting employment contracts employers should consider:-

  • Including a clause that lets staff know where policies and procedures and can be found; and
  • Confirming that the policies and procedures do not form part of the employee’s contract of employment.

You should also ask staff to sign a letter confirming that they have read and understand the employee handbook. A copy of the signed letter can be kept on the employee’s personnel file.

Many employers also include a clause in the contract of employment to cover a scenario where there are contradictory clauses in the employment contract and Employee Handbook. In the case of a conflict between your contract of employment and your Employee Handbook, your employment contract should confirm that the terms of the contract of employment prevail.

What is the benefit of having an Employee Handbook?

The Employee Handbook is an important tool in demonstrating that your business complies with current employment laws. A well-drafted Employee Handbook should be tailored to suit the particular needs of a business operating in your specific industry and address any sector-specific compliance issues.

If legal or HR issues do come up from time to time, referring to the Employee Handbook allows you to apply a consistent approach to resolving any employee disputes and help you defend any workplace-related claims that might arise.

As well as ticking legal boxes, the Employee Handbook is a useful document to educate staff about the culture, mission and aspirations of your business. Once a new member of staff has reviewed your Employee Handbook, they should develop a better understanding of whether or not they will be a good fit in your organisation and whether their values align with your own organisational values.

Want to update your Employee Handbooks?

Graphite HR Consultants can walk you through any changes to be made to your Employee Handbook.

To begin your review, call now on (01) 886 0350 or request a callback here.


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