Parts One and Two of this article focused on the factors new and growing San Diego businesses weigh when considering whether or not to hire their first employees. Part Three focuses on the important task of developing an employee policy. Regardless of the stage any San Diego business finds itself in, ensuring that new and existing employees understand what is expected of them in any given situation is critical for effective management. A clear and unambiguous employee policy minimizes costly miscommunication and conflict between employees, management, vendors and customers.
Some argue that companies could or even should wait until the second or third employee before developing a written policy because new and growing businesses have other priorities and little time to spend on a formal employee handbook. This is a pragmatic view which undoubtedly appeals to many entrepreneurs. However, forward looking businesses will draft some sort of written employee policy for its very first employee.
Whether a handout a few pages long or a detailed handbook prepared by attorneys and a fully staffed human resource department, a good employee policy will contain a number of important features: it will be written in clear and unambiguous language (preferably at a 5th grade reading level with each policy set forth on a separate page); it will address key employment issues such as health, safety and other government regulations (State and Federal), employee theft, and company expectations regarding performance and conduct; it will address anticipated problem areas such as internet use, outside email contact, phone procedures, customer contact and media contact; it will set forth a disciplinary policy; it will hold all employees to the same standards; and lastly but by no means any less important, it will highlight company benefits and quality of life. Businesses should avoid a tedious written policy that creates an impression that the company will be stuffy and unyielding. The employee policy should articulate standards prospective employees can understand while simultaneously stressing the company’s appealing attributes.
In addition, a well written employee policy will avoid use of absolute terms and restrictive language that will bind employers to promises or limit their ability to discipline employees. For instance, a distinct list of inappropriate conduct without a discretionary option makes it difficult to discipline for behavior not on the list. Finally, it is critical that employers make it clear that the written employee policy is in no way to be construed as a contract or promise of employment. A prominently featured disclaimer should indicate that either the employer or the employee may terminate the employment relationship at any time with or without cause, and that nothing in the written employee policy alters the “at-will” relationship.
Once a written policy is in place, it is important that each employee acknowledges that they have read and understood the policy. An acknowledgement form requiring the employee’s signature can include the at-will language set forth above, and can state that the employer retains the right to modify the employee policy at its sole discretion. It’s also important to apply the employee policies consistently. Providing a written warning to one employee and firing another for the same behavior risks appearing discriminatory.
Consult a San Diego business lawyer for guidance in developing an employee policy that minimizes your business’ exposure. The following websites also offer helpful resources: youremployeehandbook.com (employee handbook software) and the business.com directory (listing a number of handbook options).