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Why Do I Need An Employee Manual

Mar 12, 2008
When businesses hire their first employees, they often start without having thought through fully all of the implications of what they are doing. This new person is going to be representing you and your company to your customers and clients, will be in your premises and will gain access to all of your knowledge and resources. Many people find that what starts out with great promise ends up in disaster when they haven't considered all of the implications.

As soon as you hire your first employee you seriously need to consider having an employee manual. The contents only need to be basic to start off with, but the benefits of having one will add value to your business.

So let's have a look at some of the reasons you need a manual. To start with there are the legal reasons. If you have an employee you have instantly inherited a raft of legal obligations that you must fulfil. With most of these legal obligations if something goes wrong the first thing the courts will ask you is "what was your written policy on this issue". (I should know - after a number of years working with our Industrial Commission I saw many of the cases that went before the courts!).

The sort of legal areas you need to have coverage include:workplace health and safety, anti-discrimination, workplace harassment, sexual harassment, bullying, racial vilification, privacy as well as the financial side of things such as pays and personnel records.

Then there are the time management reasons - if you have to tell more than one person the same information you will save time by having the information written down and then just sharing the information.

Next there are the making life simpler reasons - if an employee has a question about an issue (such as how many days before they go on leave do they notify you), it is easier for them to quickly look at the manual rather than try and catch you to ask you the question. It makes life simpler and easier for all of you.

Finally there is the no surprises reason. By that I mean both you and the employee are totally clear on what will happen and when on an issue, and what process will be followed. This is particularly important for issues such as probation, performance and grievance processes.

What should an employee manual contain? Your employee manual needs to cover off all of the common questions that employees want to know about. It needs to say "this is how we do things around here" and set a firm line in the sand that shows boundaries.

The sort of information that traditionally goes in employee manuals or employee handbooks include your:

* Position descriptions and job descriptions - what each role does.
* Recruitment and selection process - how you hire and reference check someone.
* New employee orientation and induction process - what process you will use to make sure new employees know what they are doing and the rules around their employment.
* Rules around any probationary period and how you will assess whether someone is permanently appointed.
* Hours of work and rosters - any rules you have about punctuality, changing rosters, public holidays, overtime, timesheets, friends and family visiting the workplace.
* Pay and personnel records - including pay days, payslip information.
* Any discounts to goods and services or other benefits you offer.
* Leave - annual, sick, maternity, paternity, adoption, long service, compassionate, study, jury service, ceremonial leave, leave without pay etc.
* Moonlighting - can they do other jobs?
* Termination of employment - what rules are there around resignation or being sacked, abandonment of employment, redundancy?
* Privacy, confidentiality and intellectual property.
* Appearance and standards of dress.
* Travel and expenses - if you need them to use their own transport for things or travel for their job what will you reimburse and how.
* Employee Performance Reviews - how you will conduct them.
* Learning and development - what training do you offer.
* Poor performance - what if they are not performing, what will you do?
* Behaviour - this is where you cover off anti-discrimination, workplace bullying and harassment, racial vilification, workplace health and safety.
* Code of conduct - what minimum standards of conduct do you require.
* Discipline and termination - what will you do if someone "crosses the line"? What is your termination process?
* Alcohol and drugs policy.
* Grievance procedures - how an employee with a problem about a manager or other team member can go about getting it resolved.
* Administration things such as certificates of service, phone procedures, office appearance, email and blogging policies, computer policies, mobile phones and personal calls, cars, equipment, handing media enquiries, dealing with customer complaints or aggressive customers.

A few notes on version control. Yes, you will need to have some way of controlling the versions of the manual as things will change.

The simplest way is to keep your document as an electronic version on some form of intranet that way everyone always has the current version of the employee manual.

If you decide to keep it paper based in a folder, keep version control as a simple note in the header or footer and reissue the whole section rather than create a huge song and dance with sheets that say take this out and put this bit back. You want things to be easy not hard to do!

You do need to keep one central file of every document and every change and the dates of these changes. I have seen too many cases before the courts where a policy was changed but because the company couldn't produce evidence of the date of the change they lost the case.
About the Author
Ingrid Cliff is a Freelance Copywriter, Business Development and Human Resources Consultant to Small Businesses with her business Heart Harmony. Ingrid writes a free weekly small business newsletter and Small Business Ideas blog for small businesses.www.heartharmony.com.au
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