Employee handbooks: what are they and does my business need one?

Every business owner with employees knows they need an employment contract for each employee. Many of the same business owners don’t, however, realise that they also need an employee handbook.

An employee handbook sets out all the standards of behaviour expected of a company’s employees and the policies that apply to the company’s employees. An employer should provide a prospective employee with the employee handbook as part of their induction pack upon commencement of employment.

This article sets out some of the important issues an employee handbook should cover, explain why every business needs one and discusses how an employee handbook interacts with an employment contract.

Why do I need an employee handbook?

An employment contract sets out the most important terms under which an employee is employed, including pay conditions, leave conditions, non-compete issues and the like. It is, however, impossible to cover absolutely all the policies, rules, regulations, procedures and practices of a company in an employment contract.

You would be using an overly cumbersome contract, and every time you wanted to change your company’s internal policies as they related to employment you’d have to change every employment contract in the company. This would obviously waste a lot of time.

A cost effective solution is to provide your employees with an employee handbook, which sets out all of the above mentioned polices, rules, regulations, procedures and practice of the company.

What should be included in an employee handbook?

There’s a wide range of policies and procedures that should be included in your employee handbook. The most important of these are set out below:

  • Dress Code and Personal Appearance Policy
  • Attendance and Punctuality Policy
  • Annual, Personal/Carer, Parental, Jury (or Community Service) and Long Service Leave Policies
  • Email and Internet Use Policies
  • Equal Opportunity Policy
  • Bullying, Discrimination and Harassment Policy
  • Complaint Procedures
  • Disputes, Complaints and Grievances Policy
  • Workplace Health and Safety Policy
  • Alcohol, Drugs and Smoking Policies
  • Disciplinary Policy

Each individual business should also include further company or industry specific policies in its employee handbook. A good contract or employment lawyer will be able to advise on the insertion of additional clauses.

How should an employment contract and employee handbook work together?

It’s a relatively simple job to make sure your employee handbook works in conjunction with your employment contracts. Simply ensure that each employment contract contains a clause which requires the employee to agree to obey and comply with all the company’s policies, rules, regulations, procedures and practices as set out in the employee handbook.

Obeying those policies therefore becomes one of the employee’s employment obligations. This obviously works both ways; as an employer it’s also your responsibility to comply with the policies set out in the employee handbook.

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