By April Hirsch / Published September 2017
Nostalgia can land an employer in a lot of trouble. Trying to recapture a time when verbal agreements were as solid as gold is almost always foolhardy. So it is that there’s always more that can be said about the written set of expectations that tie an employer and an employee together. In the May 2017 issue of this magazine, Beth Borrego put a focus on staying in compliance with federal, state, and local laws. (See “Cleaning up Your Employee Handbook” via the link www.cleanertimes.com/magazine/cleaner-times-articles-2/cleaning-employee-handbook.)
Here, we share some advice from members of our industry about the basics: who, what, why, when, and where issues that should guide the development of an employee manual. Brenda Purswell is president of Alklean Industries in Pasadena, TX, and gets things going. (Purswell and Linda Chappell of Chappell Supply and Equipment in Oklahoma City, OK, have taught a course on developing an employee policy book for the Cleaning Equipment Trade Association (CETA.)
“All businesses should have an employee manual, unless the business is just a husband and wife,” says Purswell. “Everything that represents an interaction between employee and employer should be covered. Figure out the things that are specific to the company,” says Purswell. “They include tool policies, loans, holidays, sick time, vacation, length of tenure before benefits are allowed—just to name a few.”
The time involved in preparing and keeping an employee manual up-to-date is well spent. So, the short answer to ‘when’ is to just get it done.
“The employee manual is one of those unseen benefits,” says Purswell. “You do not see value until the need arises—like being sued…” If there is an issue with an employee, having a manual that backs up expectations in writing makes addressing any
complaints, including those to state and local agencies, much easier.
Purswell explains that singling out one entry in an employee manual that is more important than any other is not appropriate. “If you are going to go to the trouble of producing your employment manual, all of it is important.”
Before deciding to forgo a manual, think of what doing so could cost a company, says Purswell. As Purswell and Chappell emphasized in their CETA course, Purswell reminds that “ignorance is not bliss” when a complaint or other action from an employee becomes an issue.
Some members of our industry, including many contractors, have a small employee roster. They still need an employee manual, says Fred Griffith, owner of Demand Clean LLC, a mobile fleet washing company based in Charlotte, NC. “Even if there is just one employee, you should have one.”
Be sure to include safety procedures in the employee manual, says Griffith. Having a ready place where an employee can review the procedures—or double-check on expectations—helps reduce workers’ compensation claims.
Things change, and the manual must change, too. “We are constantly updating our employee handbook and policy manual,” says Griffith. “And with each update, the employee signs that he/she understands the changes.”
An employee manual should be updated every year, says Griffith. Of course, if a significant change, such as a new regulatory directive, happens, it should be updated then.
“Job description and expectations —as well as consequences if not met” are musts for inclusion in every manual, says Griffith. The clarity minimizes the possibility of misunderstanding. Nothing eliminates all misunderstanding, yet the method that Griffith uses of having an employee read and sign off regarding updates to a manual is a good way to keep employees engaged.
The employee manual plays a significant role in workplace safety. Yes, the first reason for the existence of the manual is to establish parameters of the interaction between employer and employee, but a good manual can also be a boon to safety.
“The company takes every reasonable precaution to ensure that employees have a safe working environment,” says Tom Svrcek, president at Joseph D. Walters Insurance Agency in Belle Vernon, PA. “Safety measures and rules are in place for the protection of all employees. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of each employee to help prevent accidents.”
Including the workplace safety policy in the employee manual promotes safe practices. The manual is a ready resource that an employee can use to make certain procedures are understood.
“To ensure the continuation of a safe workplace, all employees should review and understand all provisions of the company’s workplace safety policy,” says Svrcek. “Employees should use all safety and protective equipment provided to them, and maintain work areas in a safe and orderly manner, free from hazardous conditions. Employees who observe an unsafe practice or condition should report it to a supervisor immediately.”
When an employee is driving on the job, documentation takes another important role. “All employees who drive company vehicles will be trained and well versed in the company’s safe driving policies,” says Svrcek.
“How to load and unload vehicles and any other job-related activity” should be described in the context of accident and injury avoidance, explains Svrcek. “Motor vehicle reports will be run on all drivers every six months.”
Safe driving includes integrity of vehicles—another entry for the manual. “Drivers must report all accidents and traffic violations to the supervisor immediately,” says Svrcek. “Keep records of all servicing and repairs made to the vehicles, and regularly inspect tires, brakes, and all turn and brake signals.” In other words, spell it out. Take nothing for granted. Put it in the manual.
“Though an employee manual is often good for legal purposes, ultimately it is a communication tool,” says Jeffrey Paulding, president of Dirt Killer Pressure Washers Inc. in Baltimore, MD. “If you have just a few employees, you should be able to communicate all of your plans and policies directly without recourse to a written manual.”
It’s not just a large number of employees that point to the need for a formal document, however. “If you find it difficult to communicate your policies due to company size or turnover, it is time to write out an employee manual,” says Paulding. “This ensures that all are on the same page and there are fewer opportunities for misunderstandings about company policies that could lead to bad feelings or misconduct.”
Start with the essentials. “Policies about attendance, vacation, and pay are probably the most important as misunderstandings in this area can lead to bad feelings for both management and employees,” says Paulding. “Points of dispute” are more likely to emerge if the policies are not clear.
“Of course, these are standard items that are driven by our government-led initiatives and our litigious society, and their inclusion helps protect the organization from frivolous suits,” explains Paulding. Among the issues to be covered in which government entities take a great interest are harassment of any type, discrimination, and drug policy.
Talk to five business owners, and each is likely to have a different—and critical—perspective on what should always be included in an employee manual. Actually, talk to them; it’s a good way to test the thoroughness of your manual. “My guess is a policy
on conflict of interest is often left out,” says Paulding. “But, I regard it as essential.”
An employee manual can fortify an employer’s defense should a complaint be brought by an employee. It’s that important. “It may be your only documented defense against a claim,” explains Paulding.
Having created an employee manual at the inception of his company, Paulding updates the manual frequently. Having a
common document to use as a reference when there is a policy issue can be invaluable. “I have referenced provisions on travel policy and pay and conflict of interest most often when getting into a disputed area with employees,” he says.
Manual, handbook, policy guide—the terminology used to describe the written document that details responsibilities of the employee and the employer is not uniform. And the places the document resides differ too.
Larger companies separate the employee handbook (pay schedule, sick leave, holidays, overtime, etc.) and the guide to policies
and procedures (vehicle use, mandated training, interaction with other employees, etc.). The separation allows policies and procedures to be distributed on a need-to-know basis. For example, most employees do not need the policies and procedures for the finance team members.
The repository for the manual (whatever its name) also varies. Many employees welcome a handbook that is a book. Others want to be able to check policies via the company website. Many companies use a combination of both.
Whichever name is used and wherever information is stored, there’s one constant. “Firm understandings prevent misunderstandings,” says Purswell, recounting the strongest emphasis of the course that she and Chappell prepared for CETA members.
Understanding also applies to the employer. Taking the time to write down policies and procedures is a good self-check on the sort of comprehensiveness that makes it (almost) impossible for an employee to speak the words “I didn’t know.”