Wednesday, September 27, 2023

By Amy Cooley

We now find ourselves in a unique position, emerging from a universal forced pause. Throughout the industry, we’ve seen operators taking these recent challenges head on while identifying and embracing opportunity; re-evaluating and updating their service offerings, fleet, and detailing protocols; and adjusting their messaging and their marketing to new sensibilities, and sometimes a new audience. Whatever the choices we’ve made, it has been a time of re-evaluating and re-inventing ourselves.

What does that mean for human resources? How do you reset to position yourself for success? HR is all about the relationship between you as an employer and your employees, so a good place to start is taking a good look at that foundational document, your employee handbook.

Amy Cooley Handbooks What is an employee handbook?
The “dictionary definition,” if you will, comes from the Society for Human Resource Management, which says that an employee handbook “provides guidance and information related to the organization’s history, mission, values, policies, procedures, and benefits in a written format. It is also viewed as a means of protecting the employer against discrimination or unfair treatment claims. It is an easily accessible guide to the company’s policies and practices as well as an overview of the expectations of management ...”

So while there are a lot of policies and rules involved in the employee handbook, we don’t want to think of it as just a collection of those items. Rather, the handbook takes a broader approach to your organization as a whole. It functions as a guide or map to the shared culture of your business. Even visually, it should represent your brand, be cohesive, and gel with your culture or vibe.

Why do I need an employee handbook?
Communication: Your handbook is your best and primary opportunity to communicate your mission, values, expectations, and policies to your employees. Many businesses are bringing back employees (or hiring new ones) for the first time in months or a year, and your staff are returning to a different environment that may require enhanced safety procedures, so it’s time to make updates to your handbook if you already have one.

Reduced liability: If you can point to a written policy that will show good reason for employment decisions or actions, or good faith in dealing with complaints of mistreatment, or language that clarifies the at-will nature of employment, these written policies can help to reduce your liability against future claims.

Performance coaching: This handbook should be used as a basis for performance management and disciplinary discussions, and coaching conversations with your employees. Guidance: A well-crafted handbook will be a guide for both management and employees to navigating the employer-employee relationship throughout the duration of employment.

What goes in my employee handbook?
About the business:
As I’ve said already, it is more than a collection of policies and rules, so you’ll want to open with a discussion about your business background and culture. This first section is all about who you are, what you do, and why you do it, including your mission and values statements.

General and compliance policies:
Now that you’ve laid a foundation, you’re prepared to move into the first policy section, which includes a wide range of general and compliance related policies, such as:

  • ADA
  • Anti-harassment
  • Alcohol/substance abuse
  • Code of conduct that reflects those values (Your code of conduct should include both a restatement of your core values and an explanation of expected standards of behavior)
  • Confidentiality statement or policy
  • Electronic communications/social media
  • Equal employment
  • Workplace safety
  • Open door policy/methods of communicating with management
  • Remote work
Payroll and performance management policies:
This section should begin with a brief discussion of Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) classifications—as most of you know, this refers to exempt vs. non-exempt categories of employees. It is important to note here that if you are working with any contractors or independent operators (IOs), this handbook is not for them. One pitfall of working with IOs happens when you treat them too much like direct employees. So while you might want to share certain pieces of the information contained here, this Employee Handbook is just that.

This section might include:
  • Regular hours of business/shift schedules
  • Scheduling/work assignment polices
  • How to report time; frequency and method(s) of pay
  • Overtime and holidays
  • Performance management/Improvement
  • Termination
  • Travel and expenses
Time away from work:
Here, you’ll want to cover any statements and policies related to time away from work, such as:
  • Military service, jury duty, voting; civic and public responsibilities that may have a regulatory component in how you handle them
  • PTO/vacation/sick time—which can be for the most part managed at your discretion
  • Scheduled holidays
  • Family and Medical Leave Act
  • Other leaves of absence
Benefits and perks:
  • Now you have another chance to move away from those policy-heavy sections, and address more of the fun stuff (in case you don’t enjoy HR policy as much as I do):
  • Benefits offered (health and other insurance plans, retirement plans, etc.). Note: Plan details, coverage, costs, enrollment forms and the like are complex, variable, and subject to change, so those are best kept in a separate benefits packet to be provided to eligible employees.
  • Eligibility for benefits
  • Perks/fringe benefits. These are additional perks that make yours a great team to be a part of. They might include employee discounts for your own services or partner service, employee rewards programs, and any other creative perks that fit your culture.
Employee acknowledgement:
On this final page, you’ll want to craft a statement that includes a confirmation that the employee has received and understands the handbook, and that they agree to act according to its guidance. Ask your employees to sign and date this last page, and keep that on file with their employment records.

You’ll also want to include some disclaimers here such as a reminder of the at-will nature of employment (unless you are operating in the great state of Montana), as well as statements that the handbook does not constitute a contract, and that it is subject to change.

What do I do with my employee handbook?
First, you want to share it with all of your employees. Your handbook should be presented and discussed with new employees during orientation; it will serve as a great introduction to your team.

Re-evaluate and update your employee handbook regularly—once a year minimally, or as changing business needs dictate (like now). Keep in mind that many of your policies are compliance-related and subject to federal, state, and local regulations/legislation. It is important to keep those items up to date.

Once a year, or any time you’ve made updates or changes, redistribute and review with your team. Give an opportunity for employees to ask questions, and ask for a signed acknowledgement.

Both you and your employees should have easy access to your current handbook and reference it as a guide. For example, managers and supervisors should use the handbook as a reference in performance management/coaching discussions.

And finally, don’t just write it—live it. Note that certain compliance-related policies only offer minimal protection on their own. For example, having an anti-harassment policy in your handbook looks great on paper, but it doesn’t do you a whole lot of good if you ignore complaints or allow harassment to continue once you become aware of it.

Additionally, your employee handbook should truly reflect your corporate culture and environment. For instance, if you say in your handbook that you have an open door policy, but management is unavailable/resistant to listening, or dismissive, or worse, hostile/retaliatory to suggestions, your open door policy becomes more of a liability than a help.

Developing or renewing your handbook is a big job to tackle and needs to be handled not only with a knowledge of legislative and regulatory compliance, but also with insight into your unique business and culture. Don’t leave it to chance—we highly recommend consulting with an HR or legal professional for support with your handbook and all your HR needs.   [CD0621]
Amy Cooley is HR Administrator for The LMC Groups. She can be reached at amy@lmcpeople.com.