Reviewing your Employee Handbooks in time for the New Year

HRHQ Employee Handbooks

by Moira Grassick, COO at Peninsula Ireland

It’s been a busy year in employment law, and if your business hasn’t reviewed your employee documentation recently, the new year is a perfect time to do this.


In this article we’ll look at the benefit of having an up-to-date employee handbook that accurately reflects the most recent changes to employment laws, as well as representing your workplace culture and values.

Employee consent before making changes is essential 

Before you make changes, you may wonder if you first need to consult with employees about any changes you intend to make. Contract law states that an employment contract cannot be amended until all parties (you and your employees) have consented.

So, if your employment contract states that the Employee Handbook is part of employee’s terms and conditions of employment, the consent of the employees is required.

Even if the Employee Handbook (in part or in total) forms part of the employment contract, there may be a ‘Variation Clause’ permitting you to make amendments to the employment contract without employee consent.

Variation clauses tend to be limited in that employers will only be permitted to make reasonable changes to non-material terms and conditions of employment.

In general, employment contracts state that the employee handbook does not form part of the employment contract. This approach allows employers to make changes to policies and procedures without first seeking the consent of all their employees.

Staff Handbooks – use clear language

As with any communication to your employees, make sure it is clear and easy to understand.

It’s very useful to have a clear set of policies and procedures that reduce the risk of confusion from either staff or management. Aim to be as transparent as possible.

The clearer your policies are, the less room there is for confusion (which is the purpose and benefit of staff handbooks).

What to include: 

Employee Handbooks generally set out your policies and procedures. Some of examples of HR policies:

  • Grievance policy and procedures
  • Disciplinary policy and procedures
  • Annual leave
  • Family-related leave
  • Equality
  • Dignity and Respect
  • Email, internet and telecommunications use
  • Confidentiality
  • Data protection
  • Absence
  • Dress Code
  • Right to Search
  • Probation periods
  • Notice periods

Workplace culture and values

The contract of employment and outlined policies and procedures combined set clear guidelines of the employment relationship. The employee handbook also provides an opportunity to communicate the culture and values of a business.

An employee is likely to first refer to their handbook if they are unsure about anything, so it’s a great opportunity to make a good impression if there is an appropriately informative and welcoming tone.

What about the legal effect of the Employee Handbook?

As mentioned above, when drafting a contract of employment in Ireland, employers should consider:-

  • Including a clause that lets staff know where policies and procedures and can be found; and
  • Confirming that the policies and procedures do not form part of the employee’s contract of employment.

You should also ask staff to sign a letter confirming that they have read and understand the employee handbook. A copy of the signed letter can be kept on the employee’s personnel file to refer to in future (if needed).

Advantages for employers

The employee handbook is an important tool in demonstrating that your business complies with current employment laws. A well-drafted employee handbook should be tailored to suit the particular needs of a business operating in your specific industry and address any sector-specific compliance issues.

If legal or HR issues do come up from time to time, referring to the employee handbook allows you to apply a consistent approach to resolving any employee disputes and help you defend any workplace-related claims that might arise.

As well as ticking legal boxes, the employee handbook is a useful document to educate staff about the culture, mission and aspirations of your business. Once a new member of staff has reviewed your employee handbook, they should develop a better understanding of whether or not they will be a good fit in your organisation and whether their values align with your own organisational values.

About the author

Moira Grassick is an experienced director with a demonstrated history of working in various services industry including financial and legal services. Skilled in HR Consulting, HR Policies, Organizational Design and Development, Management, and Performance Management. Commercially focused with the ability to grow and develop new business. Moira currently holds a BA in HRM, Certified Mediator and diploma in Employment Law.