Business owners frequently ask me: “Must I have an employee handbook? I really don’t want written policies that tie my hands. I’d rather make decisions based on issues, not a package of rules.”
While employee handbooks aren’t required, I tell my clients that there are a number of benefits.
SOME OF THE BENEFITS
• A centralized location for government-mandated and company-specific policies provides a set of guidelines for how things are handled in your company.
• Written guidelines reduce the risk of misunderstandings and inconsistency.
• Written guidelines protect you and your employees from such issues as favoritism and discrimination charges, lawsuits, reduced productivity and reduced employee engagement.
• When policies and guidelines are written and followed, employees are more likely to feel they are treated fairly.
• Managers have a resource for consistent decision-making rather than making it up as they go.
A well-written handbook is also an opportunity to engage your employees and share your company’s history and culture, as well as the rights and responsibilities of employees. Benefits, compensation, flexible work schedule guidelines, company teams, paid time off policies and other aspects of an employee-friendly workplace also can be shared.
As I work with clients to write or update employee handbooks, here are some of the common pitfalls I counsel them to avoid:
• Signed acknowledgments: Having employees sign acknowledgments that they have received and read the handbook provides solutions to the “I didn’t know that” syndrome. It also is documentation if a complaint or lawsuit occurs.
• Disclaimer statements: Not including disclaimers near the opening of the handbook and again in the handbook-received acknowledgment statement can create the perception that the handbook is an implied contract of continued employment.
• Discipline details: Avoid stating the exact steps of the disciplinary process. Progressive disciplinary procedures frequently negate the at-will policy and do not leave the company the flexibility to take immediate termination action when necessary. Note: Union policies oftentimes require progressive disciplinary programs.
• Restricting dialogue: The National Labor Relations Act says that employees have the right to engage in “protected concerted activities” to discuss work conditions to improve them. Writing policies that restrict employees’ abilities to talk about their jobs could cause problems.
• Keeping it current: Employee handbooks need to be reviewed and revised routinely to ensure that they comply with current state and federal requirements.
There are too many pitfalls to list here, but they also include not including policies related to attendance, family leave, complaints and more. As I help clients write or update employee handbooks, I also encourage them to create as few policies as necessary to maintain an effective, harmonious workplace.