Starting up a new business can be overwhelming and daunting. Often the focus is placed on developing and marketing the product or service, as opposed to managing employees or thinking about HR. However, getting your HR sorted from the start will stand you in good stead in the long run and help your business with recruiting and retaining good people. We’ve put together this quick guide to the essential HR for start-ups.


Will you take a proactive or reactive approach to your HR? Will you want to deal with HR issues as and when they arise, or would you prefer to anticipate and plan for changes to be able to address them in advance? A combined approach can work well in start-ups to offer you peace of mind. Read our 5 tips for what to include in an HR strategy for tips when planning out your strategy.

Key HR documents

Before recruiting your first employee ensure you have a legally compliant contract of employment.  Getting this right from the start will save much confusion and uncertainty for your staff down the line, protect your intellectual property and confidential information and restrict employee activity after they have left the business. There are particulars of employment that you must provide to an employee within two calendar months of them joining you; the most important of these are:

  • name of the employer;
  • start date/date of continuous employment;
  • their job title, salary and pension;
  • place of work and hours of work;
  • holiday entitlement; and
  • notice periods.

Remember pension auto-enrolment; employers must let employees know when they will be auto-enrolled which is often the first day of employment but can be postponed for up to three months. See the Pensions Advisory Service for more info.

You will also need to decide on the terms of your contract, will you employ them on a fixed term or permanent contract? Will it be regular or zero hours?

Don’t forget the working time directive which states that all employees must have a 20-minute break every six hours (which is unpaid).

Also bear in mind the 48-hour working limit, which ideally you will want employees to opt out of because this makes it difficult for them to do overtime. Include an opt-out clause in the contract.

Probationary period

Set a probationary period for new hires and be sure to communicate this with the employee so they are aware. This serves to focus both parties’ minds on either ensuring standards are met or not delaying a decision to terminate the relationship if the role does not work out.

Dress code

You may be comfortable with a casual environment in your office / workspace but there should also be boundaries as to what is acceptable to wear to work and what is safe. Publishing a dress code on the intranet cuts out the need for awkward conversations down the line. This can be set out within your company handbook or Culture Book.

Sickness policy

Employees need to be made aware of the rules in your business around taking time off for sickness, who should they notify, by when and how often, and most importantly will they be paid more than statutory sick pay? Don’t assume that employees know the rules if you haven’t told them.

Managing performance

When a new team member joins your business, make it clear what’s expected of them and provide a full induction to the company. Give them a job description and talk to them regularly, particularly in the first few months. If they don’t know what you expect of them, how can they perform well?

A buddy system can also be helpful as your business grows, where current team members can help new employees settle in and find their way around. Read our guide to conducting appraisals.

Company culture

Consider how you will hold onto your start-up company culture as the business grows. Read our tips on holding onto your culture. You may also like to read our guide to reorganising your start-up.