7 Essential Elements of an Employee Handbook

Author: Eugenija Steponkute
Published: 01/09/2020
employee handbook

This article is a guide to business owners and stakeholders on what to include in their employee handbooks. Whether you already have one or are to build one, there are core sections every organisation needs to have. The elements we insist you add are there to protect both: your employees and your business. 

Every business has its own unique set of rules, as well as the way they do things. Ranging from dress code and branding to annual leave policy and bonus system - every organisation runs things differently. Therefore it’s important that one of the first things you teach your new starters about is how things are handled in your organisation. The quickest way to do it is to give them an employee handbook.

Despite every business being substantially different from one another, even if they operate within the same industry, few things are unilaterally fundamental. Whether it’s from a legal standpoint or to ensure the overall functionality of the organisation as a whole, some clauses are mandatory in an employee handbook. In this article, we will be talking about them, as well as discussing what makes them important.

7 Essential Elements of an Employee Handbook

Here are seven essentials you need to include in your handbook:

  1. Introduction

  2. Non-discrimination policies

  3. Company’s approach to absence and leave 

  4. Data use

  5. Flexible working regulations

  6. Misconduct and disciplinary 

Businesses of all sizes and industries benefit from creating employee handbooks and issuing them to their teams. The best handbooks help employees understand what to expect from your company. And what is expected of them. By summarising key policies and procedures, you’ll safeguard your business while keeping staff well-informed. It’s certainly worth the time and effort.

1. Introduction

Every book begins with an introduction, in order to outline its purpose and relevance. When speaking of an employee handbook, it is also meant to give an overview of your company. Its background, key products and services, mission, aims and values. All in all, it should be a summary of what your company is and why you do what you do.

Given you will be providing the handbook as part of an onboarding process, a good introduction can help to integrate and align new staff with your company from the outset. However, try to keep it top-level. You don’t want to have to be constantly amending and updating the handbook. For example, you can outline the vision which influenced the creation of the company, but avoid putting its whole story up to date.

2. Equal Opportunities and Non-discrimination Policies

Your team needs to know what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable behaviour with regard to equal opportunities. Workplace equality is one of the more painful topics of today’s working landscape. Therefore every company needs to partake in banning discrimination in the professional environment.

The policy section should include your stance on things like: 

  • Confidentiality;

  • Non-acceptance of harassment;

  • Complaints process;

  • Training;

  • Non-discrimination on grounds of race, gender ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age, trans status or marital status

In addition to that, you should outline the immediate response of the company to violating the policy. Don’t go on explaining the process in full entirety as there is a separate section for misconduct and disciplinary actions, but do mention the most severe possible punishment as an outcome - e.g. termination.

3. Health and Safety Policy

Your employees are your biggest asset, and therefore ensuring they work in safe conditions is your direct responsibility. In fact, if you employ five or more employees, then by law you need to have a written statement on general health and safety policy. It is an important clause to add even when you’re not legally obliged to have it. Just to ensure your staff aren’t exposed to any threats at the workplace. 

This section in the handbook should set out:

  • Health and safety equipment available; 

  • Health and safety representation of employee and employer;

  • Risk assessments;

  • Manual handling;

  • Accidents;

  • Representatives for health and safety

Also, keep in mind that if your business is involved in activities deemed hazardous, you’ll need an extra section in your handbook. The same goes for carrying the job out at locations where your staff could possibly be injured: construction sites, heavy machinery factories and such.

4. Absence and Leave

To be more precise, these two are separate sections. Absence should include your company policies on short and long-term absence, as well as basic holiday and any additional schemes you offer (such as buying and selling holidays, or accrual for special trips). You might also want to briefly cover time off in relation to grievances, dependants, jury service, medical/dental appointments, public duties and domestic emergencies.

Leave, on the other hand, namely covers family-related time off. You need to explain employee rights and your policies on:

  • Maternity leave;

  • Paternity leave;

  • Adoption leave;

  • Parental leave;

Depending on the type of leave, you should include things like staff eligibility for leave, length of leave, statutory pay, as well as returning to work procedures.

5. Data Use

Businesses must legally have processes in place to make sure they securely store and process data relating to their employees. This section should include a consent form for each employee to sign and should cover:

  • Principles of the Data Protection Act that should be followed;

  • How your company processes staff data;

  • How you handle sensitive staff data;

  • Employee rights in relation to accessing and stopping data access;

It would also be a good practice to explain what kind of data is being collected and why. As the general public grows more aware of how valuable their personal information is, many become more conscious of data security. Being transparent in your policy should show your staff you have no malicious intentions and will protect their valuable data.

6. Flexible Working

Flexible working is becoming more commonplace, especially since the coronavirus pandemic. By law, employees who care for adults or children aged under 16 (or under 18 if they are disabled) can request flexible working. If you’ve decided to either keep or newly introduce flexible working to your company, your handbook should detail:

  • Staff eligibility for flexible working

  • Making requests and responding to requests

  • Decisions on flexible working

  • Acceptance/refusal of requests

  • Appeals

If any of your staff operate on a flexitime basis, and you find it hard to keep track, it doesn’t mean the approach doesn’t work. You just need the right software to support it.  For example, Timesheet Portal’s flexitime module automatically keeps track of how many extra hours your staff worked and deducts those hours when they take time off. The timesheets are fully configurable too, with different accumulation, deduction and capping rules.

7. Misconduct and Disciplinary 

Hopefully, you won’t ever need to reference this section, but it’s a key policy to include nonetheless. It should define what employee misconduct is, the procedures taken in order to address it and then detail the consequences. It’s best to keep your policy flexible by explaining that your company reserves the right to judge each case independently. However, you should name the specific offences that would result in severe disciplinary actions, such as suspension or termination.

As well as your disciplinary policy, you should include sections for policies on general leave (i.e. when a member of staff wants to leave your business), redundancies and what happens in a scenario of a termination. Most businesses add clauses such as forbidding former employees to work for a competitor for a certain period or to stay in contact with any of the clients or suppliers.  This is also where you should talk about things like severance pack entitlement, accumulated holiday pay and other things related to the employee leaving your company.;


Although every company’s handbook will be different, based on how their internal and external processes are handled, some clauses are simply necessary to be included. Quite a few of them are legally required, while others serve as pillars of ‘business common sense’. Either way, these fundamental sections are important for a reason - they protect both you and your employees from unforeseen circumstances by giving you pointers on how to behave.

An employee handbook should clearly outline the fundamental rules and values of the business. The rest of it can be as customised to your needs as it has to be. All in all, the purpose of a worker’s handbook is to be a tool for uniting your teams by giving them a set of clear, uniform rules to follow. It can and should be used as onboarding material when greeting new hires to the team as it will communicate to them what are the overall expectations and standards in your organisation.

Do you have an employee handbook? Let’s write one!

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