Our company recently performed an HR survey, and 25 percent of the survey respondents noted a concern with their lack of a handbook or the compliance of their current handbook. Most grocers understand that it is important to have an employee handbook that is compliant with state and federal laws, yet the update or even creation of these handbooks often ends up low on their list of priorities. This is a common mistake that can be very costly. The following five tips are handbook best practices that we recommend to our independent grocer clients.
1. Be sure to have an employee handbook that is current
Some HR professionals will tell you that having a noncompliant employee handbook will set you up for greater legal risks than not having a handbook at all. However, in the event of an employee lawsuit against your company, the court most likely will request a copy of your handbook. Having a handbook with defined policies provides companies with a better foundation as they face litigation.
2. Use language that is sound, yet flexible
There is often a fine line between ensuring protection from legal action, and leaving room for interpretation. Policies that are subject to law—such as employment at-will, wages and hours, EEO, discrimination and harassment, and FMLA—must be distinct. But it is important to include flexibility in company-defined policies. For example, most companies will define a progressive disciplinary process that outlines the typical steps that will be followed. However, if employee misconduct is particularly deplorable, there should also be a clause that allows for immediate termination.
3. Implement formal handbook acknowledgement for all employees
Making the handbook available to all employees, and having each employee sign and date an acknowledgement that they have received and read it is vital. Failure to require employees to sign handbook acknowledgement forms can lead to significant problems if an employee issue becomes litigious. Some employers require all employees to view an introductory webinar that outlines all policies and procedures reviewed in the handbook as an extra assurance of recognition.
4. Include a detailed sexual harassment policy
The #MeToo movement has brought this issue front and center in every industry. Having a robust sexual harassment policy—and enforcing it—is the best risk mitigation tactic there is. This policy must define, prohibit and address the consequences of sexual harassment. Employees should be encouraged to report violations and be assured that complaints will be taken seriously. It is advisable to provide an anonymous avenue to report harassment without fear of retaliation. Many states now are requiring that all supervisory staff be trained regarding sexual harassment prevention, and the training must satisfy specific requirements and laws.
5. Provide training and support to managers
It is important to train managers on the policies in the employee handbook, as well as provide them support when they must enforce those policies. Training managers on all handbook policies and procedures enables them to handle employee issues properly when they arise and makes them aware of the resources that are available to them to guide their decisions.
A well-written handbook will serve as a roadmap to guide managers and employees through situations that are subject to employment laws and also will provide workplace conduct expectations. We advise our clients to have their employee handbook reviewed annually for legal and regulatory requirements in order to ensure compliance with all state and federal labor laws, as well as best practice policies.
Chris Cooley is co-founder of MyHRConcierge and SMB Benefits Advisors. Grocers and other employers rely on him for HR compliance and administration, contesting SUI claims, ACA compliance, COBRACompli, employee handbooks, workforce management and benefits advisory solutions. Cooley’s companies specialize in helping small to mid-sized grocers throughout the U.S. Cooley can be reached at 855-538-6947, ext. 108 or at [email protected]