CHICAGO — An employee handbook clearly states what the business expects of an employee, as well as the employer’s legal obligations, protecting a small business like a self-service laundry against employee lawsuits and claims.
It serves to prevent misunderstandings and dissatisfaction that can lead to what Karen A. Young describes as “HR drama.”
Young, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, is a veteran human resources professional and author who’s beginning her 16th year as president of HR Resolutions. Her Pennsylvania-based firm supports small businesses like self-service laundries on a national basis.
“We’re advocates for the organization so (it) can have employees but we have to be advocates for the employees also so that the work of the organization can get done,” she says.
Part 1 of this story covered workforce size implications and the areas of employment that a handbook should cover. Let’s close today by looking at review periods and enlisting help to create your company’s employee handbook.
READ ANNUALLY, REVIEW EVERY FEW YEARS
“I do recommend that managers and leaders should read (handbooks) every year, and probably have them reviewed every two to three years,” Young says. “I would not go longer than five years. Five is really pushing it in an HR world.
“The reason I say read it every year is because of getting into what can get you in trouble, which is if I have a policy published that I don’t follow anymore but I still have it in the handbook, that’s trouble.”
Young offered an example that doesn’t necessarily fit the laundry profile but it’s worth going through. A company has an attendance policy—“be at your workstation by your assigned start time”—and a separate work-from-home policy that prohibits working from home. It hasn’t issued any handbook revisions, yet it’s now allowing employees to work from home due to the pandemic.
The business owner notices an employee who’s consistently failing to log on to her computer by her assigned time every day. He’s spoken to her about it, documented it, and put her on notice that there may be disciplinary action up to and including termination.
Ultimately, the owner decides he’s had enough, terminating the employee based on the attendance policy.
When filing for unemployment, the ex-employee points out that she’s been allowed to work from home despite the company’s established policy, so she’s not sure which of the company’s policies are current.
“That’s why it’s so important to review the employee handbook every year. I’m not saying you have to reissue, but if you do have a policy that you’re not going to follow anymore, issue a notice to be attached.”
YOU CAN DO IT YOURSELF, BUT SHOULD YOU?
Small-business owners are known for being jacks of all trades but Young doesn’t recommend tackling the creation or revision of an employee handbook without some kind of assistance.
“They should look at their payroll company. They might have HR support available. … They should talk to their attorney. … Do a search for an independent HR consultant in your marketplace. Reach out to them.”
Your regional chamber of commerce is another potential source.
However you choose to handle your company’s employee handbook, it’s always recommended that an attorney review it and sign off. And if a consultant states that they can handle it alone without legal review, that’s cause for concern, according to Young.
“Talk to your employees. Let them know what you’re doing. Seek some input from them. What would they like to see? And look at it as guidelines not written in stone. Don’t write a policy that you have to follow letter by letter by letter. Write it so it is flexible for your business.”
If it’s your first time creating a handbook, share it publicly during an employee meeting, allow time for review, then set aside time to speak to each employee one on one to answer any specific questions they may have.
From her experience, the most common error that a small business makes with its handbook is including unnecessary policies.
“Putting policies in place that they don’t need. For example, family and medical leave. If you have less than 50 employees, do not say that you offer family medical leave, because as soon as you publish it in the handbook, you’ll be obligated to follow the family medical leave guidelines.”
The Family Medical Leave Act entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
“Don’t do that to yourself,” Young says. “Make sure that the handbook is applicable to the regulations applicable to your size of organization and your state.”
An employee handbook is a worthwhile tool that can save you lots of stress if handled the right way.
“It’s worth a small investment on the upside,” Young says. “An average Equal Employment Opportunity claim settles for around $292,000 and takes two years to get to that point but most likely it’s five to six. Who has that kind of time? How much laundry do you have to wash to take $292,000 off the bottom line?”
Miss Part 1? You can read it HERE.
Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Bruce Beggs at [email protected].