Why Do You Need An Employee Handbook in Australia?


12 Jul, 2021

As soon as you hire your first team member, you need to consider having an employee handbook that includes all of the relevant workplace policies and procedures for your business.

Employee policies often go by a range of different names – employee handbook, employee manual, policies and procedures manual,  and staff handbook are just a few of them.

Whatever you call it, this is where you document “how you do things around here” and set out the expectations, mutual obligations and consequences for actions in a workplace.

But why do you need one and what should it contain? 

Legal Compliance

From the day your first team member walks in the door you also inherit a whole pile of legal obligations with which you must comply.

The majority of these legal obligations require you to document your policy on certain areas, and to educate your team members on these obligations.

You need to ensure you have addressed all workplace health and safety, sexual harassment, bullying, racial vilification, anti-discrimination, and privacy requirements.

You also need to comply with all industrial relations and financial obligations in terms of correct payments of wages and superannuation.

Just as you ensure that your ATO requirements are met for your financial obligations, you also need to meet all requirements under the raft of legislation that covers employees through having an effective employee handbook.

Team Member Education

Team members need to know their rights, responsibilities, and entitlements. By having them spelled out in your employee policy manual, you can quickly educate all your team members without having to go hunting for information. You can refer a team member to a particular employee policy if they have a question.

This is even more important when you are juggling a mix of remote team members and on-premise team members. It is easy for someone to fall through the cracks of being informed of policy changes such as close downs, changes to cleaning or other COVID-19 protocols etc. By keeping your polices updated, you reduce communication gaps.

Manager and Supervisor Education

New managers and supervisors also need education on how you require things to be handled. A clear policy and procedure manual helps your managers and supervisors know the actions they are meant to take in response to situations, and the order in which they should undertake them.


Your time is precious. By writing down and sharing the information with your team members you save repeating yourself. You will also reduce new team member orientation time as everything is well documented and easy to follow.


By documenting your employee policies, both you and your team members know the procedure you will be following for particular issues.

This is vital for procedures such as employee reviews, probation and discipline processes. 

This means that both sides understand the expectations and consequences for breaching the expectations.

COVID has also placed significant mental challenges on team members, so retention of information or directions may not be as good as during less stressful times. Having clearly documented processes gives your team members something to refer back to as a prompt.

What should an employee handbook contain?

Your employee handbook needs to cover off all of the common questions that employees want to know about. It needs to say “this is how we do things around here” and set a firm line in the sand that shows boundaries.

The sort of information that traditionally goes in employee manuals or employee handbooks includes your:

  • Position descriptions and job descriptions – what each role does.
  • Recruitment and selection process – how you hire and reference check someone.
  • New employee orientation and induction process – what process you will use to make sure new employees know what they are doing and the rules around their employment.
  • Rules around any probationary period and how you will assess whether someone is permanently appointed.
  • Hours of work and rosters – any rules you have about punctuality, changing rosters, public holidays, overtime, timesheets, friends and family visiting the workplace.
  • Pay and personnel records – including paydays, payslip information.
  • Any discounts on goods and services or other benefits you offer.
  • Leave – annual, sick, maternity, paternity, adoption, long service, compassionate, study, jury service, ceremonial leave, leave without pay etc.
  • Moonlighting – can they do other jobs?
  • Termination of employment – what rules are there around resignation or being sacked, abandonment of employment, redundancy?
  • Privacy, confidentiality and intellectual property.
  • Appearance and standards of dress.
  • Travel and expenses – if you need them to use their own transport for things or travel for their job what will you reimburse and how.
  • Employee Performance Reviews – how you will conduct them.
  • Learning and development – what training do you offer.
  • Poor performance – what if they are not performing, what will you do?
  • Behaviour – this is where you cover off anti-discrimination, workplace bullying and harassment, racial vilification, workplace health and safety.
  • Code of conduct – what minimum standards of conduct do you require.
  • Discipline and termination – what will you do if someone “crosses the line”?  What is your termination process?
  • Alcohol and drugs policy.
  • Grievance procedures – how an employee with a problem about a manager or other team member can go about getting it resolved.
  • Safety and security.
  • Administration things such as certificates of service, phone procedures, office appearance, cars, equipment, meeting rooms, dealing with customer complaints or aggressive customers.
  • IT – use of computers, social media use, mobile phones and personal calls.

A few notes on version control

You will need to have some way of controlling the versions of the manual as things will change. The simplest way is to keep your document as an electronic version on some form of an intranet that way everyone always has the current version of the employee manual.

If you decide to keep it paper based in a folder, keep version control as a simple note in the header or footer and reissue the whole section rather than create a huge song and dance with sheets that say take this out and put this bit back. You want things to be easy not hard to do!

You do need to keep one central file of every document and every change and the dates of these changes. I have seen too many cases before the courts where a policy was changed but because the company couldn’t produce evidence of the date of the change they lost the case.

A word of warning

Having documented employee policies and procedures is only part of the story. If you have documented procedures, but don’t follow them or take action that is inconsistent with your policies, then you may end up on the wrong side of a case before the Fair Work Commission.

Employee Policies need to be put into action by both sides, and not just remain words on a page.


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Ingrid: Lead Author, Australian Employee Manual

HR Author and Lecturer with over 25 years' experience in human resources and workplace relations in Australia. Lead Author of Instant HR Policies & Procedures, NDIS Direct Employment HR Manual, and Employee Performance Reviews: Tips, Templates and Tactics.

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We are an Australian human resources business specialising in small businesses and not for profits, based in Brisbane, Australia.


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