If you’re like me, you started your career working for someone else. You may have had several jobs prior to your current role, and each one of them formed you into the business owner that you are today – I know mine did.
Whether your experiences were wonderful or challenging, your brain was likely taking mental notes about how you intended on running your own business someday.
Even if you had fantastic mentors, you may not have always agreed with their every decision. There are numerous occasions in your career development where you’ve said to yourself, “when I’m in charge, I am going to do ___ differently.” You may choose to emulate some of your mentor’s choices, or do a complete about-face on others, but every environment that you have worked in gave you a sense of how you would want to run your own operations.
Now you are in charge as a business owner, and you’re the one making the rules. This is a tremendous power – as a business owner you can run your workplace practically however you want so long as you stay within the limits of the law. Yet to run that workplace effectively, there are a few things to remember when making the rules: they should be clear, they should be consistent, and they should be communicated to everyone. The best way to meet those thresholds is by creating an employee handbook.
“To run a workplace effectively, there are a few things to remember when making the rules: they should be clear, they should be consistent, and they should be communicated to everyone.”
Let’s be honest – no one reads a policy handbook for fun! They may be long, and even a little dry, but they can go a long way towards protecting your interests while allowing you to run your business as you see fit. If you’re not familiar with handbooks, you may well be raising an eyebrow. Here are just a few reasons why handbooks are important:
1. Ramp up new hires faster and introduce them to your workplace culture
While some standard workplace policies are common to most employee handbooks (think vacation, overtime, and leave policies), additional contents are entirely at your discretion. If you want to implement a specific dress code, put it in the handbook. Do you want a policy about animals in the workplace? How about one on visitors, outside food, or internet usage? All of those go into a handbook as well. If there were ever rules that you wanted to implement for your workplace, the employee handbook is the place for them.
2. Communicate expectations to the team to lighten your own burdens
One benefit of having policies is that you do not have to do the heavy lifting at every turn. Policies can assign duties and responsibilities to other managers within your team, especially when it comes to reporting or enforcement. Vacation requests, for example, can become the responsibility of a direct manager. As the team grows, other managers can take on additional responsibilities under these policies, taking some of the weight off of the C-Suite’s shoulders.
3. Protect your business by documenting your compliance with the law
When used properly, the handbook can become a staple of your workplace. It may never become daily reading, but all employees should be familiar with its contents as a reference point in order for it to be effective. New and existing employees alike should sign off agreeing that they are familiar with the policies, and acknowledge that those policies govern your workplace. If someone violates a policy by way of innocent mistake, they can be gently reminded and re-educated about the policies and your expectations. If violations are more serious, or occur repeatedly, discipline measures as outlined in the policy may be appropriate.
4. Defend lawsuits from exiting employees by showing that you took the right steps
Taking consequential disciplinary action such as termination of employment in response to serious or repeated policy violation may lead to a claim for wrongful dismissal. Should that happen, your policy handbook may turn out to be an integral part of your defense. In order to effectively discipline an employee for policy violations, you will need to clearly prove that you had an established policy in place, the employee was aware of that policy (hence the sign-off), and that they were reasonably disciplined according to the measures taken in the policy. That policy handbook is not just a manual; it may also shield your business from unwanted liability.
Wondering if your business needs a handbook? Here are some key questions to ask:
- Are you over 15 employees? Above that threshold it can be tricky to manage every little thing yourself, so a handbook can be incredibly helpful.
- Are your policies piecemeal? Did you grab a few off a friend, or download them from a generic website? If that’s the case, then you’re probably missing some key ones.
- Did you customize your policies for your business? Having a well-tailored policy means more than just swapping out another company’s name for your own. If it isn’t suited to your business, it likely isn’t protecting your business either.
If you need to draft your workplace policy manual (and we recommend that you do), it’s best not to go it alone. Policies should be written carefully so that they communicate expectations clearly, and do not violate human rights law (most every policy will have inherent exceptions built-in where human rights conflicts may arise). Most importantly, the discipline warnings for any violations should be carefully crafted in order to protect your business against potential legal claims that may arise.
We are happy to help go through your policies and make sure they properly protect your business. Our Fractional HR team can conduct a free review whatever policies you have in place and give them a score from 1-10. If any of your policies are out of shape, we’re happy to work with you on a plan to build out a proper handbook that can help you and your team move forward. Contact us today to learn more about our services.