The Most Important Employee Communication Tool

How do you communicate with your employees? I’m not talking about saying “hello” in the morning or asking them what they did over the weekend. I’m talking about communicating the expectations for them as employees and the policies, rules and regulations by which the work place will operate.

Most business owners do not adequately communicate these items to their workforce; in fact, most do not even have policies and procedures. When a “situation” arises, they come up with a method for dealing with the problem.

This is a disaster waiting to happen. When you don’t have rules, regulations and policies in place, you run the risk of treating employees differently for the same offense.

So how do you solve this problem? You develop an employment manual — a document that welcomes employees to the company, relates the company’s history and mission, and sets forth the policies, rules and regulations by which the company operates.

Don’t make the mistake of using a canned document for your employment manual. This is a document that should be personalized to your company — that details everything about your company. It must reflect you, your philosophy and how you do business.

Items to cover

The following are some examples of items that could be covered in your employment manual:

  • Work hours, including time allotted for meals and breaks. Prohibiting a break in the middle of a cement pour may be an important item for you to specify.
  • Time slips and how to complete them — very important to adequately account for work performed on a T&M basis.
  • Policy regarding overtime and whether it needs to be approved in advance. You don’t want an employee working overtime (and getting a higher pay rate) when you really don’t need the overtime to finish the project.
  • Probationary periods, performance evaluations and disciplinary procedures. Inconsistent disciplinary action leads to discrimination claims.
  • Regulatory information regarding equal employment opportunities and affirmative action.
  • Benefits available to the employee — holidays, pension, profit sharing and other retirement plans, bonuses (and how they are calculated and paid), medical and dental plans, and leaves of absence.
  • Sick days, paid time off or vacation days. This provision covers accrual, carry-over for unused days, applying for time off and things that will affect granting vacation days (You can’t leave in the middle of a project).
  • Dress code (company shirts required) and behavior expectations (no smoking, swearing or loud music on the jobsite)
  • Arbitration of claims — usually an arbitration provision is beneficial in the employment arena, but it is not enforceable unless specific language is included and separately signed by the employee.

Once the employment manual is drafted, have your managers and supervisors review it and provide input. Get them involved in the process. After all, they are the ones that will be enforcing the rules on your behalf.

The final document

The final document should be provided to the employees and a time scheduled for questions and answers. Arrange an orientation session for your managers and supervisors to help them implement the policies and ensure proper application. Have all employees sign and date an acknowledgement of receipt. This document should be placed in their employment file so you have proof they received it. As your business grows and changes, so should your employment manual. Review it regularly and make changes as needed.

An employment manual offers protection if there is a misunderstanding or conflict and can reduce the risk of wrongful termination, employment discrimination or violation of right to privacy claims, as well as limit your liability. It also helps you to think about and establish policies for your company, which, in and of itself, is a huge benefit to maintaining and growing your business.