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An Employee Handbook is a document, established by an employer, which outlines the rules, practices, and procedures for employees at the employer. In an Employee Handbook, the employer informs employees about the standards that are expected of them. The employer also generally lets employees know about important information like benefits and time off.
Employee Handbooks are not generally intended to be contractually binding on the employee. Instead, they explain the employer's general rules, procedures and expectations of employees. As a consequence, if the employer fails to follow a particular policy, the employee will not be able to claim that the employer has breached its contractual obligations. However, this also means that if there are specific matters of importance, that should be legally binding on the employee (such as their specific job duties, their hours of work, confidentiality obligations, or conflict of interest obligations), then the employer should make sure that these are addressed in a legally binding document, such as an Employment Agreement, a Confidentiality Agreement or a Non-Compete Agreement.
Generally, Employee Handbooks don't have to be approved by the employees. While Employment Agreements are often negotiated between employees and employers, Employee Handbooks are more of a reference point regarding the employer's standard procedures and guidelines.
Most Employee Handbooks are not meant to be absolutely comprehensive guides on everything surrounding the employment relationship. Rather, they are baselines for employer policies, through which employees can also find out how to access any additional information they may need.
How to use this document
This document may be used by a business looking to get their employee policies and procedures down into a permanent form. Employee Handbooks are normally given to individuals at the start of the employment relationship.
The Human Resources department (or any individual or department that handles employee hiring and administration) at the employer may fill out this document. It will start with the contact details of the employer. Then, the document will go on to ask specific questions about the employer's various policies and other information that employees need to know.
Please keep in mind that an Employee Handbook is different than an Employment Agreement. An Employment Agreement is a specific contract used for just one individual and the employer. It can be negotiated and adapted for the specific employee, and will cover such details as their rate of pay, and their various duties. An Employee Handbook on the other hand is much more general, outlining the general policies and expectations that will apply to all employees - such as how and when employee pays are processed, any presentation standards, leave entitlements and how it is managed, safety procedures, fire procedures, car parking, and various other matters.
When this Handbook has been filled out, it should be printed out and kept on file with the employer. Then, each time a new employee starts work with the employer, the new employee should be given a copy of the Handbook and asked to sign the acknowledgment page. The employer should keep a copy of the signed acknowledgment page and the employee should keep the complete Handbook.
From time to time, if the employer implements new rules or policies, it may be necessary to update the Handbook. When this occurs, the employer may notify employees of the updates, and release a new version of the Handbook. Within this Handbook, there is actually an option for the employer to state how they are going to notify employees of any updates. Some employers distribute copies of the updated Handbook to all employees, while others simply change the "Last Updated" date on the Handbook, and require employees to regularly check back for updates. Whichever option the employer chooses, this procedure may be followed if and when the employer ever wants to update the Handbook in future. In any event, the document should be made easily available, and employees should be notified about the new policy. An easy way to do this is by sending a Letter to Employees About New or Updated Workplace Policies.
Most new employees in Australia are covered by the Fair Work Act. Under that Act, employers have to give all employees (who are covered by the Act) a copy of the "Fair Work Information Statement". More information about this, together with a copy of the Fair Work Information Statement, is available on the website of the Fair Work Ombudsman. Therefore, most employers choose to provide a copy of the Fair Work Information Statement to new employees at the same time that they provide this Employee Handbook to their new employees.
The Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) applies the National Employment Standards (NES), which are a set of minimum employment standards in Australia.
In addition, each state and territory has legislation that deals with various employment matters such as occupational health and safety or discrimination.
This Employee Handbook does not take into account the requirements of modern awards or enterprise agreements. If such an award or agreement applies, then that will set out some additional minimum standards with which the employer must comply.
General principles of contract law, as provided by the common law, may also apply.
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