Contract of Employment, Employee Handbook, or terms and conditions?

All these are essential parts of the employment relationship, but what are they and what are the differences between a Contract of Employment, Employee Handbook or terms and conditions?

The contract of employment

The contract starts whenever an offer is made by an employer and the employee accepts the offer. Neither needs to be in writing. The offer is accepted if the employee simply turns up for the work that has been offered.

Anything that is made as part of the offer, and accepted, is part of the contract. Be careful what you promise in a recruitment interview!

Terms and conditions

Certain details of the employment contract do have to be set out in writing. These are known, technically, as the written particulars or, colloquially, as the terms and conditions of employment. Some details need to be set out on one document – the Principal Statement – others can be provided in separate documents. Some of these details, such as a sickness policy, can be in an Employee Handbook as described below.

By and large anything that is set out in these documents is contractual. It can be fought over in court, if necessary.

Anyone employed by you for 1 month is entitled to these written particulars within 2 months of starting with you.

Having these details in writing protects you from spurious claims by an employee. They also make clear to the employee the terms on which the employee is engaged. Fail to provide these details and nothing much happens – until you have a dispute with an employee. Then you could find yourself up the creek without a paddle! Employment Tribunals can also issue a penalty, in some circumstances, or impose terms and conditions that you do not like!

The Employee Handbook

This is the heart of the employment relationship. Some employers (such as those in the public sector) may make them contractual – binding on employer and employee.

Employer Solutions advise, instead, that they form guidance, setting out the employer’s expectations of the employee as the basis for mutual cooperation. We include a statement in the introduction stating that policies are not contractual unless stated to be so in the written particulars.

It is worth noting that an Employee Handbook can include statutory rights, such as Maternity Leave.

Broadly an Employee Handbook provides policies that employees are expected to follow such as equal opportunities, advises of employee rights, such as the right to request flexible working, and indicates how disputes might be resolved by providing disciplinary and grievance procedures. A typical Employee Handbook might include thirty or forty policies, sometimes even more. They can include everything from an” Adverse weather policy” to a “Whistle blowing policy”. Indeed Employer Solutions provide over 70 policies from which clients can select.

An Employee Handbook can be online, accessible via the internet with, or without a password. We would certainly suggest that it is the best way to provide it.

Malcolm Martin FCIPD

Author Human Resource Practice

Training Courses

Click here to register for one of our Training Courses.