Handbooks, or company manuals as they are sometimes known, are mostly a set of rules and procedures which Employees are expected to follow. Some of it may be contractually binding, some of it may not be.
Equally, all of it may be binding or none of it. Naturally then, the starting point for drafting such a Handbook is a clear statement letting staff know whether it is intended to be contractually binding and, if so, which parts. That said, such a statement is not always definitive in an argument and a Tribunal can, in some circumstances, look at “custom and practice” and decide that a term labelled non-contractual is in fact contractual or vice versa. In the absence of an express statement, it is generally considered that anything conferring a right is a binding term and anything seemingly being just a guide is not a binding term.
The Handbook can contain many things, useful information about the organisation that does not fit conveniently anywhere else, rules about equal opportunities, health and safety, uniform, handling company property or the use of computers, email and internet, information about time off for various reasons and matters concerning career development. It might also contain disciplinary and grievance procedures and procedures for making certain statutory requests, whistleblowing, data protection, requesting holiday and so forth.
Increasingly the Handbook is becoming a receptacle for policies which are department specific as well as of general application. In particular, HR policies might include the following:-
Recruitment Policy involving consideration of relevant factors to any new appointment including whether such role should be full time, part time, fixed term, temporary or permanent or if the same can be resolved through re-deployment within the current workforce especially in view of career development aspirations. In the event of vacancies arising, any policy should require a review of job description/ duties and contract terms and updating as necessary.
HR Planning involving forward planning for an evolving dynamic workforce, primarily concerned with forecasting supply and demand, noting the causes of any gap and reducing the effect of that whether by increasing staff levels (temporarily or permanently) accordingly, implementing an employment freeze or positively reducing man power. Such planning should include, in general terms, ensuring that the right numbers of staff with a good mix of the necessary skills are in the right place in the timeframe necessary to meet demand or the organisation’s objectives and, ultimately that any additional burden on payroll is anticipated in the organisation’s financial strategy.
Equal Opportunities involving the avoidance of discriminatory practices or procedures in relation to a candidate’s (as well as the existing work force, the organisations clients, customers and suppliers) age, disability, gender re-assignment, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy or maternity, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation. Such policy should also give consideration to reasonable adjustments necessary for any disabled applicant to ensure that they are not placed at a disadvantage to any other applicant as a result of his or her disability. A policy might also consider whether it is appropriate and to what extent in certain circumstances to permit positive discrimination to attract applications from any of the groups referred to above if such group has been under-represented in the existing workforce. Discrimination on selection is not permitted save that where the business is presented with two applicants of equal merit and one candidate belongs to one of the groups referred to above, then the employer can in some circumstances permit that characteristic to be used as a factor in tipping the balance in favour of that candidate.
Recruitment Procedure this might include which personnel ought to be involved in any recruitment and selection process (most likely be a member of Human Resources and the proposed line manager) selection for interview and criteria, interviewing process and minimum questions, shortlisting, subsequent interviews, selection criteria and any scoring matrix and the final selection.
When creating a Staff Handbook proper thought should be given to consultation with any Unions or Workforce Representatives and also individuals who are said to be managers or in charge of areas covered by the Handbook.
The Handbook should be accessible both in terms of being able to get hold of a copy and in reading it. It should be clear, concise, indexed and written in language which is readily understandable. Indeed, translations might be appropriate for any staff for whom English is not a first language.
Updates are an important feature of Handbooks. Often these are forgotten about. They shouldn’t be. Handbooks contain a valuable source of information for staff and outdated policies and procedures can cause unnecessary confusion and argument. The Employer must be careful when amending the Handbook though, if the amendment is significant and to a contractual term then notice and agreement (implied may be sufficient) must be obtained from the Employee. Often, however, a clause entitling the Employer to make minor changes without notification or consent is inserted to avoid absurdity.
T G Baynes prepare Handbooks for its Employer staff regularly and are happy to draft customised handbooks upon receipt of instructions. Further, T G Baynes are often asked to review Handbooks as part of a general contract review for new start Employees, negotiate terms and interpret clauses which contain legal jargon.