There has been discussion over the years about whether or not a business should have a printed, distributed employee handbook. Some thought that having physical proof of policy regarding employment do’s and don’ts was like setting an unfavorable weight on the side of the employee scales of justice, putting business at a litigious disadvantage. I don’t think your HR legal counsel would think that avoiding having an employee handbook is good at all. I am not a lawyer, so I cannot advise you on that, but I can advise you to consult one.
What I can also do is let you know that these are litigious times, and the cases brought before the court system regarding “your employee handbook and the law” are not going away any time soon. The level of wage and hour complaints, sexual harassment and other HR related actions against employers has escalated over the last two decades, and has held a steady rate of filing since the turn of the century.
What is a business to do?
- First of all, consult a lawyer that specializes in employment law, and have them review all of your written and perceived policies and procedures, including any employee handbook or operating manual. Doing so will provide a foundation of legality in your standing as an employee.
- Secondly, identify a professional training company or an individual consultant that is well versed, certified to instruct in HR policy and train your entire management staff in effective HR related matters.
- Next, if you have an in-house HR representative, ensure they are certified through a national accreditation organization. Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM.org) is an excellent source of training and certification. There are several levels of certification, so the better the certification, the better your chances are for a fully informed staff member handling your HR affairs.
- Additionally, establish consistency in employee meetings specifically designed for training and development. Go over the rules and regulations of your company, and make sure the attendees register to prove attendance. Maintain a record of the training conducted, who is in attendance, who conducted the training, and if an outside training agency or consultant, their certifications and / or licenses.
- Every state and the federal government require certain labor and wage and hour postings are visible and maintained within the general employee area. These posted materials vary by state, so identify which are mandatory and keep them clean, neat and visible to the entire workforce.
- As policies and procedures are developed, make sure that they are communicated to staff members through employee orientation, sometimes referred to as on-boarding, or at regular monthly meetings.
Only your legal counsel can be expected to know what is right for your company, but the threat of litigation is constant, despite what preparations you may take. The best advice is to be prepared, consistent, fair minded and above board in all of your business actions.
An employee manual, policies and procedures manuals and operations manuals that regulate how and what to do in your firm is a lot of paperwork. Having all of these documents in an automated system avoids the reams and reams of paper normally used in the printing of such materials. Access to digital files at-will for staff is a great way to keep expenses under control. Should any questions arise that would dictate checking the files, a non-paper, self-service method saves time and expense as well. Having every document digitized and controlled would be a prudent move on your part to avoid documents becoming lost or in the wrong hands (after all, these are proprietary and should be guarded as intellectual property).
Your employee handbook and the law are but one area of defense, but there are numerous things to consider, and having an attorney on retainer is a good idea.
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