Staff Handbooks-What Employers Should Know


“Good fences make good neighbours”.

This old saw is true because it reminds us that good boundaries and clarity between two parties leave less room for dispute or rows.

And so it is with the employer/employee relationship-the more clarity and less ambiguity, the less likely there will be costly disputes/claims.

Make no mistake: the most essential document governing the employment relationship is the contract of employment. However, if you do not want your employment contract to be too long and untidy you should be referring to your staff handbook when you are talking about grievance, discipline, dignity at work, anti bullying, and other important workplace policies.

For this reason it makes sense to have a separate staff handbook.

You can draw up a policy/procedure for just about anything in the workplace. But there are just a few policies which are absolutely essential and which will help you avoid losing employment related claims either in the Courts or at the Workplace Relations Commission or Labour Court.

If you go along to the WRC or Labour Court or Civil Court to defend a claim from an employee your job is going to be tremendously difficult if you have no policies or procedures in the workplace. You will immediately be placed at a disadvantage defending the claim, even if you have a perfectly good defense.

You are going to look like an indifferent, irresponsible amateur.

Before looking at the essential policies you should have in place here are some important points about staff/employee handbooks generally:

  • Make sure they are easy to read and understand
  • Publish it on your company website in addition to giving a copy to each new employee
  • Use a format that is easy to update
  • Ensure that new entrants to your workforce have read and understand the staff handbook and they indicate this in writing by their signature
  • Consider building time into induction training for new employees to allow for reading/understanding the handbook
  • Review and amend the policies regularly to ensure any changes in the law or best practice are reflected.

Most important policies and procedures in the workplace

The most important policies/procedures to have in place in Ireland are those covering

  1. Grievances
  2. Discipline
  3. Dignity at work (including anti harassment, anti bullying and equal opportunity)
  4. Health and safety

Is the staff handbook part of the employment contract?

This is an important question and should be clarified in the employment contract itself.

There is divided opinion as to whether it should be incorporated into the contract of employment or not.

My view is that it should not be incorporated as changing policies/procedures or incorporating new ones into the staff handbook can lead to the necessity to obtain the employees’ consent each time as it would be a change of the existing contract otherwise.

If the handbook is incorporated for example and the employer fails to follow fully the grievance procedure or within the timeframe specified he would be leaving himself open to a claim for breach of contract.

However reference should be made in the contract of employment to the staff handbook and the employee’s confirmation that he has read and understands the contents should be obtained.

Some employers prefer to issue all employees with a staff handbook as it allows them to monitor who has received one and who has not. However this can get expensive where there is a large number of employees and where there are regular changes/updates to the handbook.

This is why the internet and the company website offers a cost effective way of giving access to all and ensuring updates are easily carried out. However it is important that all employees have access.

Some other topics, in addition to the 4 essential ones above, which should be considered for the handbook include:

  • Sick leave/absence/pay
  • Deductions from wages
  • Collective agreements
  • Family friendly policies
  • Holiday leave and pay
  • Hours of work
  • Information and consultation arrangements (if any)
  • Overtime pay
  • Notice periods
  • Bank holiday working
  • Bereavement/compassionate leave
  • Communications
  • Internet and email usage
  • Use of company car/van/equipment/mobile phones/laptops
  • Dress code
  • Drugs and alcohol testing/usage
  • Expenses procedure
  • Gifts and hospitality
  • Incapacity and capability
  • Induction
  • Jury service
  • Performance appraisals
  • Redundancy
  • Reference policy
  • Travel policy
  • Whisleblowing
  • Training and promotion
  • Trade union activity
  • Smoking
  • Stress
  • Retirement and pension benefits

Some of the policies/procedures above would only really be relevant to large organisations. Smaller employers would not need many of them.

But any employer with at least one employee would still be well advised to ensure clarity in the employment relationship.

Because it will reduce the chances of a successful claim and lessen the chances of time consuming, and potentially bitter, disputes in the workplace.

Do you need a staff handbook?

If so, I can supply you with one for €150 plus vat.

Update April, 2018

My handbook has been updated in April, 2018 to provide a GDPR policy as GDPR which came into force on 25th May, 2018 right across the EU.

Here’s what’s included in it:

Contents of staff handbook

1 Introduction

1.1 Welcome

1.2 Purpose of this Handbook

1.3 Company Background and Mission Statement

1.4 Employment Records

1.5 Data Protection

1.5.1 GDPR

2 Company Policies and Procedures

2.1 Disciplinary Procedures

2.1.1 Purpose of Policy

2.1.2 Scope

2.1.3 Policy

2.1.4 Offences Misconduct Gross Misconduct

2.1.5 Procedures Informal Counselling Formal Disciplinary Procedure The Investigation Procedure The Disciplinary Procedure

2.1.6 Appeals

2.2 Grievance/Dispute Procedures

2.3 Bullying and Harassment Policy and Procedure

2.3.1 Harassment, Sexual Harassment and Bullying Harassment Sexual Harassment Bullying Lack of Respect

2.3.2 Procedures Informal Procedure Formal Procedure Investigation Outcome

2.4 Health and Safety Policy

2.4.1 Principles applying to Health and Safety

2.4.2 Accident Reporting

2.4.3 Fire

2.4.4 First Aid

2.4.5 Personal Protective Equipment

2.4.6 Smoke-free Workplace

2.5 Equality Policy

2.5.1 Introduction

2.5.2 Objectives

2.5.3 Responsibilities

2.5.4 Structures

2.5.5 Recruitment and Selection

2.5.6 Career Development and Training

2.5.7 Complaints and Redress

2.5.8 Harassment and Bullying

2.5.9 Positive Action

2.5.10 Review and Monitoring

2.6 Redundancy Policy

2.7 Visitors

3 Terms and Conditions

3.1 Probationary Period

3.2 Hours of Work

3.3 Breaks and Rest Periods

3.4 Absence

3.5 Hygiene

3.6 Dress Code

3.7 Alcohol and Drugs

3.8 E-Mail, Internet and Telecommunications Use

3.9 Monitoring of Internet and Email Use

3.10 Confidentiality

3.11 Right to Search

3.12 Resignation and Termination

3.13 Lay-Off/Short-Time

3.14 Exit Interviews

3.15 Company Telephones

3.16 Application Information

4 Leave and Benefits

4.1 Annual Leave

4.2 Public Holidays

4.3 Maternity Leave

4.4 Paternity Leave

4.5 Parental Leave

4.6 Force Majeure Leave

4.7 Carer’s Leave

4.8 Adoptive Leave

4.9 Jury Duty

4.10 Compassionate Leave

4.11 Pension Policy and Plans

4.11.1 Pension Policy

4.11.2 Personal Retirement Savings Account (PRSA)

As you will see, it gives you the most important policies and procedures you will need in the workplace. If there is any particular policy that you  require for your business, let me know and I can probably do something for you.

When you order yours from me I just need the name-the legal entity-of your business. I can then supply the staff handbook by email and you simply print it off and give it to your staff.

Payment options

You can pay by bank transfer or credit card. Email us if you want to pay by bank transfer; call us if you want to pay by credit card.(Contact details).

Contracts of employment

Need a quote for a contract of employment? Contact me.

I can supply you with

  1. a template contract which you will complete yourself for each employee. This would involve things like commencement date, job description/role, rate of pay, and any other specific details for the individual employee and/or
  2. individual contracts for each employee-we get all the necessary details from you for each employee and draft the contracts for you.

Here is (nearly) all I know about contracts of employment: The Employment Contract in Irish Employment Law-The Facts You Should Know. I think you fill find it useful.

Here are my services for employers.