Spring is here! HR officers all over the nation are spring cleaning their documents and policies – here’s some guidance on handbooks

1. DO distinguish between those sections which should have contractual effect, and those that should be policies, only. Usually, areas such as absence reporting requirements and confidentiality provisions should be contractual, but disciplinary/grievance procedures and dress codes should be policy, only, allowing you some freedom to be flexible.

2. DO make sure your handbook cross-references and ties in with your contracts of employment. This can be the trickiest and longest part of the job. If yours are outdated, DO consider issuing new contracts, at the same time as the handbook – it can be an ideal moment to make the change – but bear in mind that the law says you cannot enforce unilateral contractual changes on an employee. Take advice if you are not sure how to implement new contracts or policies.

3. DO try to keep policies short, simple and sweet – longer policies probably won’t be read by staff, and may be too complex and constricting to operate.

4. DO maintain consistency in tone and language (even if you have “borrowed” wording from another source). For example, decide if you are writing the handbook as “you” and “we” or as “the employee” and “the company”. If you are revising an old employee manual, DO get rid of emotive old-fashioned terms such as “subordinates” and “superiors”.

5. DO have meetings to talk about new handbooks or policies wherever possible, to raise awareness.

6. DO try to keep a balance in the handbook contents, presentationally, so that employees feel they are getting something from the document. For example, alphabetically you may move from Equal Opportunities to Expenses. A six page policy on reasons why you might not allow certain expenses will seem mean – can you keep it shorter? The three line equal opportunities policy which precedes it may look a little half-hearted and uncommitted.

7. DO train managers in the contents and how to operate the handbook. It’s no good having beautifully written policies if everyone simply ignores them. If you get into trouble, tribunals will expect to see evidence that you have implemented the policy you might be relying on, in your defence.

8. DON’T expect to be able to produce a single, global staff handbook. Although certain statements of principle may be global, each country in which you operate will have its own laws (e.g. on notice requirements, maternity rights, anti-compete clauses), many of which cannot be overridden by a company’s documentation.

9. DON’T feel obliged to have policies on everything! There may be good reasons not to. For example, if your organisation actually doesn’t have an issue with the way people dress, why have a dress code? It could just annoy employees who may feel they are being over-nannied.

10. DON’T issue the handbook without a review – even if just for comments – by an employment lawyer (preferably at Fox Williams, of course!)

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