Company Handbook

When was the last time you reviewed and updated your company handbook and employment contracts?

The events of the past 2 years have given rise to many factors that have affected the workplace landscape and now is a good time to incorporate any new policies and procedures that reflect the company’s stance on many of these issues into your handbooks and contracts.

Covid has affected all of us, not least in terms of mental health and well-being. We are experiencing an increase in levels of stress and anxiety both at home and in the workplace. Redundancies, furlough, risk of infection, sickness, bereavement, self-isolation, job security and significant changes in the workplace and to our job roles have impacted heavily on our well-being and mental health.

According to a report published by the Health & Safety Executive, one in four people in the UK will have a mental health problem at some point, the most common being anxiety and depression and this can sometimes be caused by work-related issues.

Employers have a legal responsibility to help their employees and take steps to reduce or remove any risks identified.

In the past, this would have been covered by the company’s policy on health and safety. However, given the increase in anxiety and stress leading to depression, mental health and employee well-being now warrant a stage of their own.

Promoting a clear policy explaining what steps, resources and support the company will provide to help their people during difficult times, will reassure employees that the company has their best interests at heart .

Other policies that may also need to be readdressed post-Covid relate to the increase in requests for hybrid and /or flexible working and working from home.

Where hybrid working is not an option, for instance in customer facing roles in the hospitality and leisure industries, companies may need to rethink their flexible working policies in order to address the increasing number of people wanting flexible working options. In this scenario, businesses could consider providing more opportunities for job-sharing, part-time hours or condensed working hours. Flexible working is an attractive benefit that is also increasingly being sought by job hunters. Taking a positive stance on flexible working options would give businesses a competitive advantage when attracting new talent.

The hybrid working model is fast becoming the norm in many businesses and you may need additional policies that support, inform and protect both parties. For instance, who can and cannot adopt a hybrid working pattern, when and why. Consider whether your business will require employees to be available during certain core hours and how often the working arrangements should be reviewed.

Since more employees are now working from home, check that your risk assessment policy covers workstation risk assessments in the home. Poor work stations can lead to an increase in RSI and musculoskeletal problems which could eventually lead to longer term health problems and lengthy and costly sickness absence.

Other policies that may need reviewing include sick leave and pay and time off for dependants, particularly in relation to Covid-enforced self-isolation following trips abroad or exposure to infection or caring for sick family members. Whilst many companies will follow government guidelines, some may wish to consider whether or not to provide enhance their polices in order to more fully support their employees.

For instance, if employees are unable to carry out their normal duties from home, what can they expect in terms of company sick leave and pay?

Also consider the company’s stance on vaccination and how it can support and protect vaccinated and unvaccinated employees as well as individuals who are considered high risk such as pregnant workers or employees with underlying health conditions.

Other topical subjects that may also need re-addressing are Diversity & Inclusion and Sustainability.

Diversity and Inclusion should be at the heart of every business agenda, not just for moral reasons but also for the benefit of the business. Now more than ever, HR professionals need to demonstrate the ability to develop D&I strategies to attract, recruit and retain a diverse workforce. Existing equal opportunity policies may need an overhaul to reflect the company’s stance on diversity and inclusion.

With the green movement in full swing, many companies are putting in place a Sustainability Policy to show how they are reducing waste and focusing on making the company greener.

Brexit has impacted on the employment of EU nationals and businesses need to be aware of the Right to Work requirements for EU workers with non-settlement status. These requirements can be covered in the employment contract and/or offer letter where appropriate.

Where changes have been made to company policies and procedures, check what impact, if any, these changes may have on the employment contract and make adjustments where necessary.

Keep ahead of any forthcoming legislative changes to ensure your contracts and handbooks remain up-to-date and relevant.

Ultimately, while you need to ensure that your contracts comply with the relevant legislation, you need to also ensure that they work for your business. Any changes to an employee’s contract must be agreed by both parties or in some circumstances with a trade union or other employee representative. Changes should be handled with caution and the correct process followed.

Always inform and consult employees or their representatives on any proposed changes and fully address any queries or concerns before implementation.