Keys To An Effective Employee Handbook

An employee handbook is a critical HR tool for every pest management company, but too often the development of the handbook is seen as a cumbersome project that takes up time that could be used to build the business.However, the lack of an employee handbook could end up creating more costs for your business in claims against your company or loss of employees who did not have a clear understanding of the company’s policies, which can lead to misunderstandings, frustration and unnecessary turnover.

Even when a company has a handbook, there are some commonly overlooked items and processes, according to Shay Jones Runion, chief HR officer and SVP of professional development, Arrow Exterminators. These include:

  • Failing to emphasize employment at will and ability of management to interpret or change policies.
  • Not training frontline managers on how to interpret and follow policies.
  • Not providing specific contact information or steps for employees in case they need to complain.
  • Restrictive disciplinary procedures, which tend to limit flexibility.
  • Using boilerplate policies that are not customized for the company.
  • Not getting verification that employees received the handbook—this is especially true as it relates to verification that current employees receive updates to the employee handbook.
  • Delaying developing or updating the employee handbook because the “approval” process is cumbersome, or the company is waiting to develop the “perfect” draft of the handbook—such a perfect draft doesn’t exist.
  • Not having legal counsel review the handbook.

Two other mistakes include not reviewing the handbook on a regular basis and not addressing leaves of absence, says Kylie Luff, SVP at Seay Management Consultants. “Even if a company has fewer than 50 employees and is not subject to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), all handbooks should describe the policy affecting employees who need to take a leave of absence for surgery or other reasons that would typically be covered under FMLA,” she says. The policy should spell out all aspects of the leave, such as whether or not the leave is paid or unpaid time.

In general, all handbooks typically include sections covering—at least—the following:

  • Company background/history/mission.
  • Employment policies and procedures.
  • Information about pay and benefits.
  • Employee responsibilities to the company.
  • Safety/security.
  • General work rules/disciplinary procedures.
  • An equal employment opportunity policy that includes all protected categories under federal, state and local employment regulations.
  • A policy that provides reasonable accommodation for disabled employees and applicants.
  • A description of appropriate use of email and internet, along with the notification that company email and internet access may be monitored by the employer.
  • A cell phone policy that describes whether or not people can use their smartphones at work, and in what situations, as well as the safety issues associated with cell phone use while driving on employer business.
  • Information on emergency closings due to weather or natural disasters—how will the employer communicate with employees?
  • A dress code policy that clearly defines employer expectations and addresses trends in clothing as well as items such as tattoos, unusual piercings, extravagant hair color, colognes or other fragrances and revealing or unprofessional clothing.
  • Breaks—coffee, meal, smoking or other types during the day. Not all states have regulations requiring breaks so it must be addressed in the employer’s policy. There is a growing trend for policies pertaining to breastfeeding breaks for nursing mothers.
  • A vacation policy that outlines number of weeks and how vacation time is accrued, as well as a statement that addresses the first-come-first served nature of the process.
  • A list of holidays observed by the company along with a statement that “reasonable accommodations” will be made for people who observe other religious holidays.
  • A smoking policy that bans smoking or designates specific smoking areas.
  • A sexual harassment policy that provides a primary and back-up means to report allegations of sexual harassment.
  • A drug and alcohol policy that bans illegal drugs and alcohol at work and reserves the right to require a drug test if management believes it is necessary.
  • A weapons at work policy that prohibits weapons except when they are job related and allows employers to search employees, their locker, toolboxes and vehicles parked on employer property if deemed necessary.
  • A social relationships at work policy that prohibits managers from dating or having a romantic relationship with non-management employees. Some companies prohibit any employees from dating each other.
  • A designated company spokesperson for public announcements and news media to whom all employees should refer members of the press.

There is also language that should be avoided in the handbook, says Luff. “Do not use language that tends to create or imply a contract, such as: for cause, annual, conditions of employment, continued employment, permanent employment, career or job security,” she says.

Employers still have flexibility with regard to how they publish their handbooks, says Runion. “If all employees have intranet access, placing the handbook online is an effective means of communication, but printed copies can still be given to employees as well,” she says. “At Arrow Exterminators, our handbook is available at all times on our intranet and if any policies are changed, we are transparent with all team members by communicating via email and through our human resource information system for acknowledgement.” A special review of a new policy or change to a policy also appears in the company’s monthly Arrow News Broadcast.

Luff recommends reviewing the employee handbook annually to make sure that they reflect up-to-date regulations or business policies. “Reviews should be a collaborative process, with the HR Manager and other positions in management reviewing the document and weighing in,” she says. “This ensures accuracy in company-specific policies and procedures that are outlined in the document.” To ensure compliance, the document should always be reviewed by an expert in the employment regulations, she adds.

Arrow reviews handbook policies every year at a Fall HR Strategic Planning Meeting. “We keep a running list of policies that may need to be clarified or changed throughout the year and spend time talking through each of them,” explains Runion. “There may not be a need for a change each year, but we like to keep ourselves familiar with each policy.” She recommends involving HR and benefits representatives, senior management, front line managers who enforce policies, the company’s employment attorney and, perhaps, third party benefit or other providers in the review.

There are numerous online resources to help you get started, including some free ones, says Runion. “There are software programs to help you organize existing handbooks and to determine which format works best for you, and the Society of Human Resource Management offers templates and suggestions for handbooks as well,” she says. “Finally, the NPMA Recruitment and Retention Committee is made up of HR and industry professionals who would be willing to also offer some feedback to help you get started!”