Last week we delineated, in this Blog, the reasons why every company should have an employee handbook. If you are already convinced about that, you do not need to go back and read that article again. However, if you missed it, that article is contained in this Blog and you should review it before reading further. This article will explain five things which should be included in your company’s employee manual and why they are important for any business.
1. Employee Reviews
Employee reviews can be some of the most tense, cumbersome and unpleasant experiences imaginable for both employer and employee. However, it does not have to be that way. Many companies, and their employees, make it that way. This article will explain how having an employee manual, and conducting an employee review in accordance with the terms of the manual, can eliminate anxiety and improve employee performance and retention.
The company manual should explain that employees will be reviewed twice per year. That’s right – – twice per year. You might think that that sounds overly burdensome. What is overly burdensome for a manager/supervisor is to carry negative feelings and ill-will around about a particular employee for an entire year. That will really wear you down!
Try this instead – – review your employees at the end of June. This will give your employees an entire six months, before bonus time, to improve. Your comments, positive or negative, will not then come as a surprise. Moreover, if employees are told in the company manual that there is a twice yearly review process, guess what? Employees will be on their toes for the entire year not just for the last six weeks before bonus time. Thus, a description of the review process, conducted twice yearly, is an important aspect of your employee manual.
2. Chain of Command.
Everyone wants to be the boss. Nobody wants to be an employee or an underling. The problem is that, in some companies, it is unclear who is the boss and who is the employee. This can lead to problems.
Your company manual should specifically delineate who your employee’s direct supervisor is. Mentioning that person by name is not a bad idea or, at the very least, by job description and/or title. This way there will never be a doubt to whom the employee should report. It is the employee’s supervisor who should conduct the review as well. The employee should be aware that their direct supervisor will be the person conducting the review. This should be explained, upfront, in the manual.
3. Use of Company Property.
Sometimes, employees get confused. They think they own the company and, as a result, are entitled to take with them whatever it is that they want. Unless this is spelled out, you will soon see that reams of paper will disappear from the copy room along with toner, pens, pencils, and other items. Along the same vein, employees will take the opportunity, if unsupervised, to surf the web and look at Facebook, the local newspaper or their personal email accounts. Since all of these things, including the company’s computers belong to the company, the company is permitted to determine how these things will be used during regular business hours.
Accordingly, a well written employee manual will have a provision that says “Surfing the Web for Personal Reasons,” or “Taking Supplies Home with You from the Copy Room,” are unacceptable and could be grounds for termination. Not that the average employer would fire someone for swiping a few pencils – – nonetheless, these items could certainly come in handy if, or when, you have to defend an employment discrimination suit from this employee later on. The moral is, therefore, make it clear in your employee manual what constitutes company property and how it is to be used.
4. Computer Usage.
Lawyers who file discrimination suits often have a field day hiring technical people to image and infiltrate the computers of company employees. What are they looking ? Lots of stuff, including employees who surf the Web for inappropriate sites. Once an inappropriate photograph appears on the screen of a company employee, it is the same thing as posting that picture on the wall and, while the average person may think that the offended employee is a “prude” this behavior, and the use of an employee’s computer, can become a key piece of evidence in a hostile work environment claim. Such conduct will give fuel to the complaint that some people, most often women, find it impossible to work in a company where inappropriate images are regularly displayed on computer screens.
The employee manual should spell out that this is prohibited, that the computer belongs to the company and the company is privileged, at any time, to monitor an employee’s computer usage. An employee does not have, and should not have, a privacy right in his or her computer or email.
5. Sexual Harassment.
It is always a good idea to put in a provision in a company’s employment manual about sexual harassment. Sometimes employers think that their employees should use their common sense when it comes to such matters. However, what these employers may not understand is that some people do not have common sense. Instead of reporting sexual harassment to an appropriate supervisor, those people simply freeze and are unable to decide what to do other than to suffer through it and wait to be fired when their performance declines. When asked at their deposition, “Why did you not report this” an employee will often answer with something like: “I did not know who to speak to.”
Enter the well drafted company employment manual. In the section on sexual harassment, there should be a designated individual, within the confines of the company, to whom it should be reported. Preferably, it should not be the employee’s direct supervisor because, as we all know, this is the person most often responsible for harassment to begin with. Thus, a neutral person in the H.R. Department, or the owner of the company, should be included. If that occurs, then the question to the employee at his or her deposition becomes: “How come you did not follow the terms of the employment manual which designates to whom you speak concerning a sexual harassment complaint?”
In sum, the purpose of retaining counsel to draft an appropriate employment manual is not to cause you to spend unnecessary money on legal fees; rather, it is to save you monies on legal fees in the event that the company becomes the target of a nasty lawsuit.