Is an employee handbook really essential if I already have contracts issued to all staff? What are the basic policies that can be included?

Article by Caroline McEnery on

Ensuring that you, as an employer or manager, are compliant in terms of employment law is absolutely essential. In line with current employment legislation all employees should have received and signed off on the company disciplinary and grievance procedure within 28 days of commencement of employment.

It is very important to ensure that you not only have the necessary procedure in place but that it has been issued to and signed off by all employees in order to guarantee that you are in a position to correctly manage disciplinary issues in the workplace.

The easiest way to ensure that this is the case is to issue all employees with a copy of an employee handbook that contains all company policies.

Employee contracts are issued at the beginning of the employment relationship, but they do not take into account potential changes to certain work practices or changes to the legislation in the future. Therefore, it is recommended that it is made clear that the employee is in agreement with the conditions stated in both the written contract of employment and the employee handbook.

Examples of policies that should also be included at a minimum are as follows: grievance and disciplinary; dignity and respect (anti-bullying and harassment); data protection policy; social media/use of phone; sick leave;  absence from work; staff purchase/discount policy; CCTV policy; alcohol policy; honesty policy; clocking-in procedure.

For any “grey areas” in your organisation in terms of expected behaviour of employees or what the company position is on certain things, the best way to combat these grey areas is to draft a policy for inclusion in your employee handbook.

When dealing with disciplinary issues or defending claims at third-party hearings at the WRC or the Labour Court, it may not be sufficient to simply produce a document signed by an employee acknowledging receipt of a particular handbook or policy.

The policy must be robust and widely known and understood.

Employee handbooks should be checked regularly to ensure that they are up to date with any legislative changes and should also take into account any changes in work practices.

Regularly reissuing your employee handbook and getting all employees to sign off on the latest edition of it is advisable.

Handbooks should also be a form of a “go-to guide” for your employees for matters that they need information on.

You can include any relevant company information, company history, your culture and core values. It is also good to have policies in place for any potentially contentious issues to ensure employees are on the same page when it comes to dealing with these.

It is vitally important that your employee handbook and the policies within are drafted by an experienced HR professional. The secret to dealing effectively with employee issues is for employers to pay particular attention to company policy or rules and regulations on this issue.

It is also essential that these rules and regulations are applied consistently, and essential that employers not operate outside the parameters of their own policies.

We deal with a wide variety of employer queries in the HR Suite. If a client calls us with a particular query, we often get asked what is the next step or what is the best course of action – and our response will usually start with the following question – “What does your policy say in relation to this?”

Your policies within your employee handbook set the standard, and so they will be your starting point in dealing with any employee issue.