Effective Handbooks Save Time and Money
While reading an article in the October 14th edition of Investors Business Daily entitled, Managing Legal Expenses, there was a quote that would make any Human Resources professional take notice. Craig Bonnist, an employment attorney with the Bonnist & Cutro law firm in New York, tells firms to prepare written policies for employees and worker handbooks to ward off lawsuits. Mr. Bonnist is quoted as saying, “Employee issues such as severance, vacation, permissible leave and benefits can be effectively dealt with through a comprehensive handbook, the cost is minimal when compared to the potential legal issues resulting from an ad hoc approach.”
While what Mr. Bonnist says is true, we would add that the handbook must be geared toward the culture, goals and objectives of the company. What should have been said is “Effective handbooks save time and money.” In the last few weeks, we have reviewed six handbooks for clients. Unfortunately in all of these cases, we had to recommend that their handbooks be completely re-done. With great intentions, these individuals with these companies copied information from a number of sources in an effort to make their handbook look professional. These people did not know what they did not know and put sections in their handbook that could have gotten them into more trouble. It is very hard to tell someone who put in countless hours writing their own handbook that their work was a waste of time. It would have been more expensive to try to salvage what they did than to start over from scratch.
Some copied and pasted the entire handbook from another source and had a great handbook for a different company. One company had a policy that is no longer legal due to a law that was passed in 1978. Another stated payment terms that are in violation of wage and hour laws.
Still another encouraged people who felt they were discriminated against to contact an attorney or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission with contact information. We told them to destroy their handbook and to not give it out to anyone else.
In the world of instant gratification, it is easy to fall into the trap of purchasing a generic handbook from the internet. These alleged internet solutions are not solutions at all. In fact, many who have downloaded a handbook have called us to do it for them because the internet handbook was too confusing. The document was not able to answer questions. There is still some great value in face to face communications with experts.
Without exception, clients tell us that their handbook has made managing their workforce much easier.
There are a few “must haves” that should be included in a handbook. These include:
- The company history, along with a vision of where you expect to be in the future. This includes your mission as well as the behaviors you expect in serving your customers as well as fellow employees.
- A policy statement on Equal Employment Opportunity, harassment and the Americans with Disabilities Act. This policy should include a mechanism whereby employees who feel that they are being discriminated against or harassed by a co-worker can lodge a complaint that will be investigated promptly and as confidentially as possible. This is your first line of defense in the event that a charge of discrimination is filed against your organization.
- An electronics communications policy stating that the computers, telephone systems, e-mail, voice mail, company issued PDA’s and cellular telephones are the property of the company and subject to search and monitoring.
- A violence in the workplace policy. The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) requires this. It is also a great idea to spell out your safety rules and accident reporting procedures.
- Time off policies including vacation, holidays, sick or personal time are important. A Family and Medical Leave Policy (if you have at least 50 employees in a 75 mile radius), as well as a personal leave of absence policy should be included. Do your employees know how you will handle it when they are called to jury duty? What about a death in the family?
- Hours of work, normal starting and ending times, when paychecks are distributed, a definition of excessive absences and tardiness – and how they are coordinated with workers’ compensation and family and medical leave.
- A brief summary of the benefits offered by your company.
- An employment at will statement along with a signature page where the employee acknowledges receipt of the handbook.
If you have developed a customized handbook – congratulate yourself. With the many changes in employment laws, it may be time to have it reviewed and updated before the first of the year.
If you copied your handbook from another source, have it looked at. It is worse to have a bad handbook than no handbook at all.