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Dear David: Why employee manuals are essential tools

September 12/19, 2016: Volume 31, Number 7
By David Romano

Dear David:

Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 3.15.31 PMI’ve been reading articles about how important employee handbooks are for these new millennial employees. I don’t have a manual and the truth is I don’t know if it is really necessary. Is it worth going through the process of creating one when we do a pretty good job of training and setting expectations with our employees?

Dear Concerned Owner,

Creating an official employee handbook gives you the ability to clearly communicate to employees how they should behave, what they should wear, how they will be compensated and how they will be disciplined and rewarded. The ideal employee handbook should facilitate the following:

Educate employees about what they can expect from management. An employee handbook clarifies company objectives and leadership styles, as well as management best practices—all of which foster healthy management-employee relationships.

Let employees know where to turn for help. Ultimately, you want employees to feel comfortable turning to a trusted member of management for help when they want to report workplace violations or get workplace-related assistance or answers to any other questions they may have.

Get employees to behave according to set standards. A handbook should outline for employees how to conduct themselves, and what will happen if they fail to meet those expectations. A handbook should also inform employees about how they can succeed in their jobs. Personal conduct, dress code and ethics—are all things that should be clearly defined for employees.

Serve as a guide for managers. A handbook tailored to the way you do business helps ensure managers across the organization handle issues consistently.

“Sell” the benefits you offer. A good handbook should briefly list all of the benefits provided by you at no cost to the employee. These include: medical insurance and short-term disability insurance, vacation, sick leave, parental leave and paid holidays, etc.

Provide ammunition against unemployment claims and lawsuits. The reality is it’s only a matter of when—not if—a business owner will face a lawsuit from a current or former employee. When this happens, one of the most useful documents you can provide your attorney or third-party investigator will be a copy of your handbook, which demonstrates the organization exercised “reasonable care” toward its employees.

Outline safe workplace practices. Keeping both employees and customers safe at all times should be a top priority—and your employee handbook can help.

Provide guidance for managers. Employers can also use employee handbooks as a way of providing supervisors with information on key management policies, such as how to recognize the signs of substance abuse, performance counseling and corrective action, and interviewing and hiring guidelines.

Developing an employee handbook takes effort, but it is definitely worth the investment in time. You’ll find it might save you a world of heartache and trouble down the road.