Posted: Jun 5, 2012
Views: 3451 - Comments: 2

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Here’s a quote from our old employee manual:

Employees are expected to be at work on time, stay until their workday ends, and to do the work assigned or requested of them. If an employee is unable to be at work on time, s/he is expected to contact his/her immediate manager promptly.

And here is the problem with most employee manuals...They make managers look like idiots. Before I go any further, I want to remind all of you that I am an HR professional – not a lawyer. Lawyers have the policy Kool-Aid ready to pass out at the drop of a hat. So in short, this is my advice based on my experience in HR and this does not constitute legal advice.

As I was saying, employee manuals make us look like idiots. Why? Well, who in their right mind doesn’t understand that you’re expected to stay at work until your workday ends unless you let someone know? Talk about assuming the worst of your staff.

I see two major issues with employee manuals as they appear in most practices. Like the example above, they are often overly detailed and overly specific. The more specific the text is, the harder it is to consistently follow the meaning and purpose. This may cause problems regarding staff expectations and rules because your policy manual is too cumbersome to read.  

I’ve also seen policies written to address the behavior of one employee. This is a grave mistake many of us make and I strongly encourage you to stop. You aren’t fooling anyone. Usually everyone but the person who you are writing the policy about knows the new policy is about one person. And they know why. Her name is Tina and she never wears lead gloves when taking radiographs.

Despite the rumors, you don’t have to have a specific policy in place to tell someone that pink kitty cat scrubs aren’t appropriate for your practice. Or that the patchouli oil they are wearing smells weird. Or that their weird new facial piercing isn’t professional. Just tell them. Directly. Problem solved.

Here’s how: Tina, the patchouli oil you are wearing has a strong smell that is bothersome to your co-workers. While I appreciate you like this scent, it is distracting. Starting tomorrow, please stop wearing it to work. Thanks so much for your help with this.

So now that that is cleared up, for the most part. I think we all need just ten core policies. That’s right – just ten – I’m cutting all the fat.

  1. Your employees need to know they are at-will (for those of you in at-will states) and that an employee manual does not change that. A part of this policy can also be an outline of what constitutes full and part-time and what those statuses mean for benefits.
  2. Your employees need to know how they get hired, what background screens you conduct, and that you are an equal opportunity employer.
  3. Your employees need to know how they get in trouble and how they get fired. This can be one policy, but they need to understand what the steps are when they are in trouble and what will get them fired immediately.  
  4. Your employees need to know what to do if they have a short term or long term disability that impacts their ability to do their job.
  5. Your employees need to know how they get vacation and sick time, when they can use it and when they can’t.
  6. Your employees need to know when and how they will get paid and what constitutes a holiday. They also need to know you expect them to take meal and rest break, as are required by law.
  7. Your employees need to know how to take leave – medical, personal, civic duty, and military.
  8. Your employees need to know your expectations for conduct, for them and for you. This should include your management philosophy – that you have an open door and want to hear about issues, how you want to resolve disputes, that you don’t want your staff soliciting one another, and that you won’t retaliate against anyone who issues a workplace complaint in good faith.
  9. Your employees need to know that the workplace will be free from illegal harassment and should also understand who to report this behavior to.
  10. Your employees need to know that you have a drug free work environment.

I know what you’re thinking. What about benefits? What about safety? What about a long list of things employees can and cannot do?

Benefits change. When you discuss employee status, have a brief outline or who is eligible for what and go over the rest in detail in person, on your employee’s first day. Be consistent.

Safety is important – that should be a separate manual.

As for the long list of things employees cannot do? I think that can all be summed up with this paragraph:

Employees are expected to conduct themselves in a professional manner, exhibiting a high regard for our clients, vendors, volunteers, business associates, and co-workers. No breach of professional behavior (abusive language, immoral conduct, dishonesty, harassment, etc.) will be condoned.  

That’s it. I challenge you to find a rule this doesn’t cover.



Coby Richter's picture

Hey Monica - What does "at will" mean? Can you make me run laps "at will?" Dumb surgeon here, not privy to the cool HR terms.

Monica Maxwell's picture

Great question and my fault for not better explaining it here! At-will basically means that the employee and employer are not contractually obligated to one another. Meaning someone can quit without notice or be fired without notice. Now, that doesn't mean an employer should willy-nilly go around firing people for no reason without any warning nor does it mean that an employee should quit without notice - both are bad practices. This article just points out that it is important to make sure that it is clear that the employee manual is not a contract; it is a set of guidelines for expectations and behavior.