Policy manuals benefit all parties


When new or temporary employees arrive at Vector Inc., they often are puzzled about what the company does and what they && are supposed to do.

"Most people who come to work for us have never heard about what we do, which is provide vocational rehabilitation for injured workers and serve as expert witnesses," said Marcia Andersen, co-owner of the small Westminster, Calif., company.

To eliminate confusion and save time, Andersen hired Linda Reitman, a consultant and technical writer, to develop a job manual describing exactly how Vector's front office operation should work.

"The feedback on the manual has been very positive," said Andersen. "New employees tell us they didn't know how they would have gotten through the first week on the job without the manual."

By using the manual, Andersen said, she can train new employees in a few days, rather than a few weeks, saving her both time and money.

Personnel consultants say even the smallest business should have written policies and procedures to avoid confusion. There are several different types of manuals, each covering a specific aspect of your operation. Employee handbooks outline company policies on everything from dress codes to maternity leave. Operations manuals outline company operations from crisis management to customer relations.

Job handbooks, such as the one written for Vector, clearly outline the duties and responsibilities of each position. These handbooks are not only used to train new or temporary employees, but can help cross-train employees to cover for each other during vacations or other absences.

Once you spend the time writing a policy handbook, or hire experts to write it for you, don't just leave it on a shelf -- use it!

"One of the quickest ways for you to get in trouble with an employee is to put out a policy handbook and then not follow it," said Edgar Ellman, a veteran personnel consultant with offices in downtown Chicago.

Each year, Ellman writes about 200 policy handbooks for large and small companies from wholesale distributors to banks.

He usually works by mail, charging about $750 to complete a customized handbook. To collect the necessary information, Ellman asks business owners or managers fill out and return a detailed, 17-page questionnaire. Based on the information provided about the company and existing personnel policies, Ellman writes the handbook. Before completion, he sends a draft back to the company for editing and review.

Although Ellman strongly recommends against hiring an attorney write your policy handbook, he urges clients to make sure their attorney reviews the handbook and, if necessary, add information about applicable state and local regulations.

You want your handbook to be as clear as possible because it often plays a key role in court if an employee sues you for wrongful termination or any other labor dispute. According to Ellman, many courts around the country have ruled that a policy handbook often serves as a contract between employee and employer.

"We are in such a litigious society that any employer who doesn't have an employee handbook is just asking for trouble," said Linda Reitman, founder of the Writers' Bloc in Costa Mesa, Calif.

"A good manual is going to save an employer a lot of time and money because it documents everything an employee needs to know and establishes a company's policies and procedures," said Reitman.

Job manuals can also help managers review job performance by setting certain standards.

"A good manual makes a manager's job easier by contributing to a more accurate performance appraisal," she adds.

Above all, be sure your handbook is accurate and easy to understand. You may also want to have it translated into other languages for employees who are not proficient in English.

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