Have you updated your Employee Handbook in light of Covid-19?

Many employers may have made decisions regarding the ongoing status of their employees, and some may have made amendments to employee contracts along the way.

However, not all employers will have thought about bringing their internal documents – such as their employee handbooks – into line.

As well as other elements, a well written employee handbook serves as an extension of the organisation’s policies and procedures. By allowing employees access to clear and detailed information on company policies, handbooks provide a point of reference so employees know exactly what is required and expected of them.

Here are some of the key areas to consider updating within your company’s employee handbook:

New ways of working

Covid-19 has forced many businesses into a position where they needed to allow working from home – even when some were perhaps reluctant to do so. The results of an increase in home working will likely have varied from business to business, but many companies are reporting the potential for employees to continue working from home on a longer-term basis. Businesses that did not previously have a policy in place regarding home working may now wish to introduce one. In light of the pandemic and home working, companies may wish to review their existing policy regarding flexible work requests.

Risk management

Whilst risks can be managed fairly well within the confines of an office space, this is not necessarily the case when employees are working remotely. Employee handbooks may need to be updated to reflect the increased risk in relation to data protection – in particular the management of confidential information whilst working from home and the transport of any sensitive documents between home and the workplace.

Risk assessments and the communication of these with employees could also be something that companies look to incorporate within their employee handbooks.

Employee health

Although the majority of employers will not make changes to their normal sickness absence policies in light of Covid-19, it may be more difficult for them to manage. If there are any changes to the way sickness absence should be reported, these should be updated in the employee handbook. Sickness policies may also be updated with reference to pay and reporting arrangements where someone is required to self-isolate due to displaying symptoms or coming into contact with someone who has Covid-19.

In addition to physical health, the Covid-19 pandemic has been well-documented as taking its toll on mental health. Where employers do not have a policy in place, they may wish to introduce one, outlining what staff should do if they are suffering from stress or anxiety and where they can go for help.

Health and safety

Employers have an obligation to ensure the health and safety of employees and this still prevails if employees are working remotely. Employees that are asked to return to the workplace should be briefed on policies such as track and trace and what to do if they experience symptoms of Covid-19. Workplace practices such as hand washing, social distancing measures, PPE provision etc should also be detailed in company policies.

Where employees are set to work from home on a long-term basis, they should be encouraged to come forward with any complaints relating to their posture, such as back or neck pain. Employers may wish to conduct risk assessments in the home of employees where home working is agreed on a long-term basis so appropriate workstation adaptations can be made.  It is also a good idea for policies to set out what equipment will be provided by the company for those working from home for prolonged periods.

Annual leave policies

Employers should be aware that Amendments to the Working Time Regulations 1998 now allow employees who have not been able to take all of their annual leave due to Covid-19 to carry it over into the next two years of leave entitlement. Employee handbooks should be updated to reflect this.

Employers should also set out clear policies on what employees should do in the event of having to self-isolate on return from a holiday due to quarantine rules, and any impact this may have on their annual leave.

For more information on your employee handbook or to discuss implementing any changes to your workplace policies or practices, please get in touch with us. We are able to offer a free initial Zoom meeting (up to half an hour) or fixed fee HR consultations by the hour.