Employment Practices: What You Need to Spell Out – Part One

hr policiesThis week we will start to explore the policies that need to be clearly spelled out for your firm.

Equal Employment Opportunity

Yes, you do need to say that you are an equal employment opportunity employer. If you don’t, you just open yourself up to potential lawsuits. The statement doesn’t need to say that you embrace the world, but it must say that you do not discriminate and that you adhere to all federal and state laws relating to such and to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and that you communicate employee rights as required by law.

Harassment and Anti-Discrimination

The purpose of this statement is to help create a workplace that is free from all forms of harassment, and to insist that all employees are treated with respect, dignity, and courtesy. This should make very clear what the company stance is against harassment and discrimination and what the complaint procedure is. You should also include some examples of unacceptable behavior and the consequences of such conduct. See the sample harassment and anti-discrimi­nation statement at the end of this chapter.

At Will Status

This is where a lot of small employers get confused. “At will status” simply means that you can let people go when you want to because they are employed “at will.” Most, but not all, states include “at will” in their employment regulations. Basically then, the fact that you hired someone doesn’t mean you have an obligation to keep them employed (this may not be true if you have signed a contract), though it doesn’t mean you can treat them unfairly. I encourage you to always do your best to make a place for someone, but if that person really doesn’t fit into your organization, you can let them go. Where companies get into trouble is when they negate their “at will” status by using terms such as “probationary period,” “trial period,” “cause,” “per­manent,” “career,” and “loyalty.” All of these words are problematic because they imply that, if an employee does perform any kind of paid work for your company, he or she will be entitled to permanent employment. For this reason alone, you need to have this section of your employee handbook reviewed by an outside expert to keep you safe.

Attendance and Leave Policies

This is simply the place in your handbook where you identify what constitutes acceptable attendance for your company. It could be something like this:

The Widget Company commits to customers to meet certain work schedules and delivery dates. In order to do this, we must be able to depend on regular attendance of all our em­ployees. We look on regular attendance as an essential requirement of any job.

And then you would go on to explain what your rules are regarding tardiness and absenteeism: specifically, what is and isn’t acceptable; who employees have to report to and by when; whether or not they have to cover their shift; when they need to have a doctor’s note (usually after three days); and what happens if they don’t follow the rules. If you have over fifty employees, you’ll need to identify that they are covered under the Family Medical Leave Act and explain what that means for them.

Think about whether there are other types of leave you will accept in addition to those dictated by law. Sabbaticals are a great way to retain excellent employees by giving them an opportunity to recharge. In our overworked society, creative leave policies can be a great non pay-based incentive.

Excerpted from my book, “Putting Together the Entrepreneurial Puzzle: The Ten Pieces Every Business Needs to Succeed.” Available here on Amazon.