Running a Shop Human Resources

Keep it Flexible: How to Write an Employee Handbook

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One way to onboard employees and to do it right is with a well-written employee handbook.

“I think it’s important for both the employer and the employee to have one set of guidelines, one set of governing policies, to set a mutual level of expectations,” says Jon Hyman, an employment and labor attorney with Wickens Herzer Panza, an Ohio law firm.

Hyman says a body shop's employee handbook is the first and best way to communicate with and set a tone for new employees. It’s also a way to protect your business down the line, should disciplinary or other issues crop up, as well as a means to promote company values.

“There are all sorts of things you can encourage employees to do just by putting a policy in a handbook,” he says.

Do you need to update your shop’s employee handbook? Is now the time to start writing yours from scratch? Read on for more tips from Hyman on how to create an employee handbook.

As told to Mike Munzenrider 

This is not a contract

Every handbook should absolutely have a disclaimer reaffirming the at-will status of employees. Don’t inadvertently create a contract between employees and the business through something in your handbook.

Here’s what it must contain: “This is not a contract of employment, you are always and shall be an at-will employee unless someone signs a contract for you. You can be fired for any legal reason and you will not rely on anything in this set of guidelines as binding.”

The handbook is guidelines

Beyond that disclaimer, you want your employee handbook to include guidelines, not binding principles. Consider: It’s first and foremost a communication tool—figure out your tone, formal or informal, how you will describe the business, nail down your philosophy. The handbook is guidelines, but it can also communicate more about your shop than what to do, and what not to do.

Spend the money up front

Anybody can go and Google an outline for an employee handbook, and there are some wonderful starting points out there, but I always caution against using them as endpoints. If you didn’t have your book drafted by an attorney, have it reviewed by one.

Speaking from a lot of experience, it’s always cheaper to have an attorney involved in writing it from scratch than to review, edit, and markup a handbook for a business. That Google book—you just don’t know who wrote it, what state it was for, and you can run into a host of compliance issues.

Spend the money up front so you don’t have to do it after—generally it’ll be $1,500 to $2,500 up front, and if you get into litigation over an error in the book, 10 to 100 times more should you need a lawyer on the backend. 

Half the handbooks I’m given to review include one simple yet glaring error: They’ll have policies that say employee salaries and wages are confidential, they can’t be discussed, it’s a breach of confidentiality, when that is 10,000 percent an illegal policy. There’s nothing cost effective about hiring attorneys to fix mistakes.

Different ways to do your handbook

If you’re an MSO with locations in different states, there’re a couple different ways to do your handbook. Do you want a different book for each state based on that state’s requirements regarding things like protected classes and family medical leave, or a single handbook that’s the lowest common denominator that includes all the same policies? I’ve seen handbooks that are 100 pages long with the disclaimer, “If you’re in California this policy only applies to you.” Use the same book for all shops and you might have employees in Mississippi wondering why they don’t get paid time off like the California shop employees. You’re creating potential conflict.

Lay out policies

Lay out policies in your handbook regarding employee discounts, education and training reimbursements or if that’s covered up front. You can use the handbook to encourage behavior, for instance, by stating that employees can get time off to do charitable work.

Policies you need

There are literally hundreds of policies you can put into your handbook, it largely depends on the type of behavior you want to encourage. Then again, there are policies you need to put into writing no matter what: Explain how and when employees are supposed to work; always explain your attendance policy; if an employee can’t come to work, lay out how they should call in; explain what happens if they’re a no-show; how overtime is calculated; and the difference between exempt and nonexempt employees.

Leave yourself flexibility

Even though your handbook is not a contract and you have that disclaimed in the handbook itself, you want to leave yourself as much flexibility as possible with the policies therin. Consequences for breaking policies can be explained as discipline, on up to termination.

Leave yourself flexibility to deviate from guidelines–from the employer standpoint, building into the document as much discretion as possible is always helpful.

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