Human resources dos and don’ts (Part 3 of 3)

Published On: May 1, 2008Categories: Management

Policy administration, anti-harassment and best practices.

This is the final article in a series about human resources basics. In this issue, Kay Robinson, SPHR, Director of Human Resources Consulting Services with RSM McGladrey, discusses policy administration, anti-harassment and best practices. This article should not be construed as legal advice.

In the past two issues, I have talked about recruitment, reference checks, record keeping, wage regulations and benefits requirements. That information was to help keep you from tripping up on legal issues. Now I need to talk about how to ensure that your employees know what is expected, how to ensure that they are able to perform in a harassment-free environment, and how companies focus on opportunities to be the employer of choice.

Simply stated, employees need to know what is expected. Whether you have three employees, 13 employees or 33 employees, an employee handbook is critical to helping them understand expected performance and behavior levels. When you create a handbook, whether you cut and paste from an Internet version or a borrowed copy of a handbook from another company, always have an attorney review the final draft before you issue it to your employees. State laws may differ from federal laws. Poor wording in a handbook can create a contract, and that could get you in trouble when you terminate an employee who is not performing. As a business owner, you want to protect your ability to terminate “at-will” for any cause or no cause (and an employee has the opportunity to resign for any reason or no reason).

You want your handbook to be understandable—written at a seventh grade level—in clear, non-technical language. Make employees aware that the handbook is a set of guidelines, not a set of rules. Before you issue the handbook, train your supervisors so they understand how to administer the policies outlined in it.

The handbook should include these subjects: Equal Employment Opportunity statement, definition of exempt and nonexempt (who’s eligible for overtime), breaks and meal periods, time sheets, electronic communication policies (use of Internet and e-mail), use of cell phones, employee rights under Family and Medical Leave Act (if you have 50 or more employees), employee rights under Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (all employers), workplace privacy policies (drivers license checks, right to inspect or monitor work), advanced pay, loans, use of company equipment, attendance, misconduct and disciplinary policies, and substance abuse. You will want to briefly outline benefits, including vacation and sick leave policies. Note that in some states you are required to pay out the balance of vacation and sick leave upon termination. In other states there is no requirement, other than to have a specific policy stating whether you do or don’t pay out upon termination. Some states say that if you don’t have a policy, you must pay out the balances upon termination.

Administer your policies consistently. Employees become demotivated if they see that some employees “get away” with non-adherence. Employees also become litigious. (“So-and-so was not disciplined for non-adherence to a policy, how come I was? Must be because they discriminated against me based on age, or race or gender. So I’ll sue…”)

You will definitely want to include a policy on anti-harassment. If your employees are unable to perform because they are intimidated by a supervisor or a fellow employee (or even a customer), or the environment is hostile, you are setting employees up to fail and the company is not going to be able to maximize productivity. Harassment isn’t limited to the sexual variety anymore—harassment includes all protected categories, such as race, religion, age, gender, veteran status and disability. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission administers that anti-discrimination policies and harassment is a form of discrimination. In order to minimize your liability for charges of harassment, it is important that your business has a policy, distributes the policy, trains employees on their rights and responsibilities under the policy, trains supervisors on their responsibilities, communicates the policy to employees on a regular basis, has a procedure to investigate complaints, is prompt in investigating complaints, takes appropriate action when the complaint is founded, and maintains confidences as much as possible.

Motivating employees, and ensuring them that you’re an employer of choice doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. The primary reason employees leave a company is not because of benefits or pay, but because they work for an ineffective boss or leader, or because they receive little feedback on how they are doing. Effective, two-way communication is critical, as is respect, reasonable policies that fit the culture, and recognition—just saying “thank you” once in a while. In his book, “Keeping the People Who Keep You in Business,” Leigh Branham indicates that employees want to know how their job fits into making the company successful. And they want to know that they will be rewarded for their efforts. All of this can be done through an effective orientation program.

I have provided you with lots of information, and a lot of dos and don’ts. If you put this information into practice, your human resource issues won’t feel like you are always putting out fires. Feel free to contact me at if you have questions.

Kay Robinson, SPHR, is Director of Human Resources Consulting Services with RSM McGladrey in Wilmington, N.C.