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Essential documents for employers

When starting up a business what are the absolute minimum documents that an employer is required to have in place? Most are aware they need contracts for their employees, but what about the Staff Handbook. Is this full of unnecessary memos or legal requirements?

There are in fact very few written policies that are an absolute legal necessity for an employer to have. For the most part, policies set out in a staff handbook are there as a matter of good practice, to set out the standards expected of employees; to assist the running of the business, and to reduce legal risk by making sure employees and managers understand the legal rights and responsibilities inherent in the employment relationship. 

However, there is a minimum level of information that must be given to employees in writing. Much of this must be given in a single written statement of terms under s1 of the Employment Rights Act 1996, which may be given in the form of a statement, a letter of engagement or a written employment contract.

Some information can be (and usually is) given in a staff handbook or on the firm’s intranet.

There are also areas where a written policy is not compulsory but can bring significant legal protections for the employer, beyond merely setting out standards of behaviour or employees’ entitlements. 

Below is a quick table of the policies and procedures that are, in general, required by law, and those that an employer would be well advised to consider including. 

Required by law  Advisable 
Disciplinary procedures and rules (if not in contract/section 1 statement) Bribery
Grievance procedures (if not in contract/section 1 statement)

Equal opportunities

Information about pensions (if not in contract/section 1 statement)

Data protection

Health and safety
(if 5 or more employees)


Whistleblowing (in some cases such as listed companies and public bodies)