SUMMARY: Employer’s bid to change its staff handbook is rejected by the Court of Appeal… Read on to stop this happening in your organisation.
Staff Handbooks are a great way of telling staff what you expect from them at work and how they will be treated in return. A constantly evolving handbook with inherent flexibility to adapt to organisational change can be a very effective people management tool.
To ensure there are no limitations on an employer’s ability to make changes, the handbook should be a guidance document, which does not form part of the contract of employment.
In a recent dispute about a change to an absence management process the Court of Appeal confirmed that the employer could not unilaterally implement a change to that process even though it was contained in the handbook. The relevant process was contained in the part of the handbook which was stated to have contractual effect and therefore the employees’ consent was necessary.
The following are some simple do’s and don’ts to avoid this problem happening:
DO check whether your existing staff handbook is contractual or non-contractual. Sometimes a handbook will state that part of it is contractual and part of it is non-contractual. It is easier to amend a handbook (or parts of it) that are non-contractual than those that are contractual. If the contractual status of the handbook is unclear, consider seeking legal advice.
DON’T amend your handbook if it is (or parts of it are) contractual without consulting with staff to reach agreement. There may be an obligation to enter into a more formal consultation process if more than 20 employees are affected and/or there is a recognised trade union. If you are unsure about your consultation obligations, consider seeking legal advice.
DO consider putting in place a completely non-contractual handbook if you do not already have one. This would avoid the worry of having to consult with staff every time a change is made; notification to staff would suffice. Staff would still be bound by the policies in a non-contractual handbook because they have a duty to obey lawful orders.
DON’T forget to review contracts of employment at the same time as a contractual staff handbook, especially if you are looking to remove the contractual parts of the handbook; if some elements need to remain contractual relocate them to the contract.
Get your staff handbook right and it will definitely be handy rather than a hindrance.
For more details about amending handbooks or contracts of employment or consulting with your workforce please contact:
+44 (0) 808 172 93 22
This update is for general guidance only and does not constitute definitive advice.