When should you develop an employee manual? When:
- You keep making the same decision about maternity leave or how to handle complaints.
- Employees keep asking the same questions.
- High turnover makes consistent training hard.
- Employees respond with “I didn’t know” when disciplined.
The goal is to create a handbook so your employees know what to expect when they work for you and a reference that they can check before asking you questions (yes, this may take some training.) It gives you a place to write down the decisions that you have already made and others that are likely to come up (such as a maternity leave policy) so that the answers are all in one place. This is also where you put the legal language about non-discrimination and equal opportunity (at the back of the manual, not the front).
Don’t copy someone else’s policies, change the name, and call it good: that is a recipe for trouble. Your manual should reflect your company and how you want to run it, or it won’t do you much good. It also needs to reflect the appropriate laws for your state and company size: Montana is not an at-will state but most are; if you have 10 employees you don’t need a policy on FMLA. You can modify a template rather than start from scratch, but do it carefully.
Be careful to give yourself flexibility for unforeseen events. If your discipline policy is to give verbal warnings and then a written warning before firing someone, write that down – but make sure you state that you will fire someone immediately if the violation is bad enough. If you find an employee angrily waving a gun at a customer, you don’t want to have to give them verbal and written warnings; you need to fire them on the spot. Don’t write policies just for the everyday events, write them to accommodate extreme events too: use “may be terminated” and “usually will occur” to give yourself flexibility in the unusual situations. Similarly, use disclaimers to remind employees that the world changes.
An employee manual that fits your organization can make managing it easier, if you take the time to think it through up-front.