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The Company Handbook: Rule maker or deal breaker?

by Laura Mould / Wednesday 28th June 2017


For a small business, putting together a Company Handbook can be a daunting task – with so many policies and procedures to choose from, deciding what is relevant and how best to structure each can be off-putting.

So, why is a Company Handbook so important, for businesses of all sizes?

1. Legal protection for both employer and employee. Valuable legal protection is provided by defining clear procedures (e.g. those for dealing with disciplinary or grievances) as well as protection for employees in the form of policies such as bullying and harassment. Ensuring your handbook is present, accurate and up to date will mean your business is compliant with current legislation and reduce the risk of employee claims.

2. Laying out expectations. The Company Handbook acts as a formal document or book that sets out how you expect employees to behave and conduct themselves, and in turn how they can expect to be treated by the company.

3. Uniformity. The Company Handbook clearly explains expectations for everyone and highlights the consequences of violating these rules. By explaining workplace ethics and expected behaviour with colleagues and the management, workplace disputes are minimised.

4. Guidance for managers. Some company handbooks act as a ‘training’ manual for managers, setting out what to do if they suspect an employee is abusing substances, needs performance management and so on.

5. Induction. A company handbook should be provided when an employee joins to enable a smooth induction and integration into the company culture.

Key hints and tips:

Scalability. Make sure that the policies and procedures work for both your business now and your business when it has grown. It is very difficult to change policies where they favour employees less after the change. Don’t commit to anything that you wouldn’t be able to provide if your business was to double, treble or quadruple its number of employees.

Maintain your handbook. It’s not enough just to set it up and forget about it. The Company Handbook should be updated regularly, especially when new legislation is introduced. At the very least every two years.

Thorough but concise. The handbook should contain everything you need, in as condensed a manner as is practical. Anything too large will put off employees and be tough to maintain.  Whilst anything too basic may not give you the protection you need.

Put your cynical hat on. Avoid promising anything you might not be able to deliver on (or might not want to) or that might result in claims further down the line.

Ask your employee to sign to acknowledge receipt of the company handbook.

Avoid legal jargon. Keep the language plain and simple and easily understood.

Start small. You don’t need to have all the policies ever available instantly. Start small with the essential policies, then add in over time until you are confident everything is covered.