The employee handbook: all agreements in one document

Do you want to create clarity for your staff and avoid discussions? Draw up an employee handbook. An employee handbook is not mandatory, but it is wise to have. It can prevent problems with your staff, such as questions about leave or discussions about pay. In addition, an employee handbook helps in case of a labour dispute with an employee. You will need parts of the employee handbook as evidence in any court case. This article describes what an employee handbook is and what topics it can contain.

What is an employee handbook?

An employee handbook is a document in which you list all the practical information and agreements that are important within your business. This way, you make clear what the working methods are within your business and what you expect from employees. These agreements are usually not included in an employment contract or collective labour agreement (CAO). However, you can refer to your employee handbook from an employment contract.

Is an employee handbook binding?

An employee handbook is only binding if it is laid down in an employment contract and your employee has agreed to it. Did you draw up the employee handbook after you hired staff? Then you can still ask your employees to agree to the employee handbook in writing.

What to include in an employee handbook

Every employee handbook is different. Which sections are in your employee handbook depends on your staff policy, your type of business and what you think is important. Although an employee handbook is not mandatory, it is a useful communication tool to have. This is because, as an employer, you are obliged to communicate certain rules and protocols to your employees. For example:

Rules of conduct

Rules of conduct are a way of encouraging desired behaviour and dealing with undesired behaviour. The law requires you to take action on undesirable behaviour. This can be done through a code of conduct in your employee handbook.  You can show this code of conduct to the court if an employee's misconduct leads to a lawsuit. Draw up the code for the following topics:

  • Dealing with business-sensitive information: specify what information an employee should not share outside the business. Think turnover figures, customer data or product information.
  • Clothing: lay down how you want your employees to dress in the workplace. Think about the required clothing in front of customers or safety clothing when working with hazardous substances.
  • Violence, aggression, discrimination, and sexual harassment: state that you consider safety in the workplace important and that you pay attention to physical, psychological and physical (also called psychosocial) well-being. You do this through a psychosocial workload policy (psychosociale arbeidsbelasting, PSA policy), which is mandatory for all employers.  Explain where employees who see undesirable behaviour among colleagues can report, for instance to a confidential advisor. 
  • Alcohol, smoking and drugs in the workplace: state if, when and where you allow this. For example, are your catering staff allowed to have a drink after work? If so, should this be in a specific smoking area or outside the premises? If so, put this in the rules of conduct in your employee handbook.
  • Working hours and days: report on what times and days you expect your employee to be present. Also, mention weekends and public holidays.
  • Working from home: indicate whether employees are allowed to work from home and mention any conditions or rules.
  • Use of social media: state that your employees are not allowed to share confidential information about your business on social media and that they are not allowed to make statements that could harm your business. Define clearly what you mean by confidential and harmful information, such as expressing a negative opinion about a product.

Rules for absenteeism

Communicate the main rules of your absenteeism protocol in your employee handbook. This absenteeism protocol is a document that sets out how your business deals with absenteeism.

If an employee is absent, they are not at work. For example, because of illness. By stating the absenteeism rules in your employee handbook, your employee knows what to do in case of absence. If an employee does not come to work without cancelling or without your permission, this is called unauthorised absence. Do they not fulfil their obligations and does this lead to a conflict? The absenteeism rules can serve as evidence in a court case.

Safety rules

According to the Working Conditions Act, you are responsible for the safety of your employees. A Risk Inventory & Evaluation and a PSA policy are compulsory. These describe the main health and safety risks. Include the most important measures from your RI&E in your employee handbook.

Suppose you have a restaurant and your employees work with a deep-frying pan. Then your employees run the risk of sustaining burns. You can add rules to the handbook instructing your employees to wear safety clothing.

Do you fail to do so and does an industrial accident occur or does your employee fall ill for a long time? Then the legal and financial consequences for your business could be huge.

Leave rules

Your employee is legally entitled to a certain number of hours of leave. Are you party to a collective labour agreement (CAO)? You may have more legal obligations under your CAO.

Further rules apply to pregnancy leave, maternity leave, partner/parental leave, adoption leave or foster care leave, calamity leave and short-term absenteeism leave. These statutory leave arrangements are set out in the Work and Care Act (in Dutch). As an employer, you have the right to refuse a leave request.

Record in your employee handbook how an employee submits a leave application, and to whom, and in which situation you refuse a leave application. This way, you avoid confusion and discussion.

Performance and assessment

You are not legally obliged to draw up rules for performance and assessment. Nor are performance appraisals (functioneringsgesprek, in Dutch)  mandatory. However, your employees may ask for them. Think of an employee who wants to grow. By clearly communicating the rules in your employee handbook, you avoid questions and discussions with your staff.

Rewards

Rules for rewards (bonus, remuneration) are not mandatory either. But lack of clarity about declarations, travel allowances and other rewards raise a lot of questions. Offer your employees clarity on the terms of employment and save time.

Departing employees

Also draw up rules for departing staff, for example about handing in belongings (laptop, phone, keys) or access to company software and passwords. This way, you prevent your company information from becoming available to all.