I’ve noticed that some company managers and owners treat my constant admonitions to get

How policies and procedures look when you don't have them spelled out.
How policies and procedures look when you don’t have them spelled out.

an employee handbook the way kids respond when you tell them to wear their galoshes. They roll their eyes. They let out a soft “gah….” sound. Or sometimes they reassuringly promise me that it’s all good because they made copies of their best friend’s employee handbook and he had a lawyer look over his.

So for those of you convinced that employee handbooks are just for worrywarts and fussbudgets, let me tell you a story. Once upon a time there was a large pharmacy chain with a detailed employee handbook. It had all kinds of specific rules—like employees weren’t allowed to work overtime without a manager signing off, even if they were just dropping off products to a different store. They weren’t allowed to work off the clock and if someone was asked to do so, they were required to report it to a manager. Everything was spelled out clearly. So one day, when a bunch of disgruntled employees decided to sue the company for working off the clock and putting in a bunch of overtime they weren’t paid for, they hit a brick wall. Their suit was dead in the water because this document had spelled out exactly what they needed to do and they hadn’t done it.

Think of an employee handbook like this. You don’t have to have one. You don’t have to have insurance or extra money in the bank or brakes on your bicycle. But, really?

Putting together an employee handbook designed for the way your company and employees operate is a really small price to pay to protect you against something really horrible and huge that could come up in the future. You can’t be sure that managers are always going to communicate clearly to new employees every policy and procedure that might come up in your company. It’s really not fair to expect it, in fact. There are often just too many moving pieces. Nor is it a good idea to just use your buddy’s handbook.  Unless all your policies and procedures are identical, you’re creating a risk of even more confusion. It could also leave you really vulnerable to lawsuits.

It’s not that handbooks are radically different. But each company’s is subtly different. Every employee handbook has three main sections.

  • There’s the notice of employees rights—EEOC, GINA and ERISA, just to name a few—which covers various areas of employment law. This will be impacted by the size and type of workforce you have.
  • There’s the part that informs employees about their responsibilities. If someone violates their rights, for example, it’s their responsibility to report it. This section also includes standards of work. This is where you explain that everybody has to be nice to everybody and no one can forgo bathing. This is pretty specific to your company.
  • The third section is a kind of “how to” about how employees should relate to the workplace. How do they get paid? How do they file an expense report? What do they do if they need to change their emergency contact form? This stuff will be very exclusive to your business.

Have you ever been an employee, trying to get your job done and it’s impossible to figure out what the rules are or what you’re supposed to be doing? It’s really frustrating. It gives an impression of a not-very-together workplace and really hinders an organization’s ability to be effective, productive and profitable.

So if you don’t have an employee handbook that was written with your business and your employees in mind, this would be a great time to get one done. We can even help. And everyone can be happy ever after.

We work with companies on a project basis or on retainer, providing a custom level of HR help designed for your business. Contact me at Caroline@valentinehr.com or call (512) 420-8267.    

We work with companies on a project basis or on retainer, providing a custom level of HR help designed for your business, with offices in Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and Houston. Contact me at Caroline@valentinehr.com or call (512) 420-8267.