As I was preparing to put the finishing touches on this article, I flipped through a recent issue of Staff Digest, a publication geared to staffing companies. An article caught my eye. It was titled “Are you next? Three out of five employers are sued by former employees every year.” The article promoted having liability insurance to protect the business when it is sued. But I think it is more proactive to have in place and use an employee handbook to deal with situations before they become lawsuits.
There is no document that will be more useful for keeping you and your employees out of trouble. When your employee handbook is ready, hold a staff meeting to review the policies in the handbook. Have each employee sign an acknowledgement that they have read and understand the policies. Let me give you some examples of how this has helped some of our clients.
Running a Little Late
One company had a married couple that was often late. Because of their positions, their tardiness disrupted the start of the day and had an impact on workflow. The owner talked to them many times about the need to be on time and reminded them about the lateness policy: “If you arrive any time after your scheduled starting time, you are considered late. Our company may take corrective action, up to and including immediate termination of any employee who arrives late in excess of eight occurrences in a calendar year.”
When it occurred again, the owner gave them another chance, but she told them it was their last chance and warned them that termination would happen with the next tardiness. Shortly thereafter, they arrived late again and the owner fired them both. Despite all of the warnings, they were shocked that she would do that. Once the shock wore off, several employees came in to say they knew it was hard, but that it was the right thing to do. Many of them felt it had been unfair that the couple was getting away with something.
Just Joking Around
Another client had to handle a harassment complaint from an employee. It all started when the employee gave him her two weeks notice because she felt she was being sexually harassed. He was quite surprised and asked for more detailed information.
She told him that there was too much swearing and too many sexual jokes, especially in the production area, which was upsetting her to the extent she felt it was directed at her.
The owner immediately pulled the entire staff together and read two pages from the handbook that defined harassment and sexual harassment and delineated the workplace complaint and harassment prevention procedures. He told the team that he had received a written complaint and it was his job to enforce the policies.
He stated that it was important that everyone continue to have fun, but they must have a respectful environment. In addition to reading the policies on harassment, he also emphasized that retaliation against any employee who had made a complaint under the workplace complaint policy would face disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment. He made sure that he did not identify or even hint at who had filed the complaint.
This session got everyone’s attention. A few individuals even came in to apologize for putting the company in jeopardy. The owner had seen the team get wound up at times and have a lot of fun, but he felt no one had ever intended to be harassing. But harassment is defined by the person who feels harassed. It is important to note that because he had that meeting, the individual acknowledged that her complaint had been addressed and withdrew her resignation.
If these owners had not had a current handbook in the hands of all employees, with a signed acknowledgement that they had read and understood the rules from each of them, those disciplinary actions would have been much more difficult to complete. Because they did have the handbook, they did not have to wing it. They just had to follow their policies and avoid what could have been a disastrous situation.