I am a firm believer that every tire dealership should have an employee handbook.
If they are done correctly, handbooks can provide a company with an avenue for communicating expectations, benefits and general philosophies. If presented properly, a handbook also can help you legally-and that will keep your lawyer happy!
I recently asked six people what they thought of their employee handbooks and received these varied answers:
* ``I don't know. It's so big I have never read it.'' (Bigger is usually better but not when it comes to handbooks.)
* ``My wife read it because she can read English better than I can. She said it was OK.'' (If a measurable percentage of your employee population is bilingual, your handbook should also be written, for example, in Spanish to cater to their needs.)
* ``Handbooks are a potential liability. They may be viewed as a contract and therefore should be all-inclusive or pretty generic.'' (Could you tell this person was a lawyer?)
* ``We don't have a handbook.'' (This is a missed opportunity.)
* ``Our handbook? Isn't that something you read before you retire?''
And my personal favorite is the following response:
* ``Handbook? Oh that's just one more place that the company found to put the mission statement that they spent $100,000 on when they developed it.
You know they have that mission statement in acrylic frames on the walls all over the office, and then they laid off Suzie the receptionist because cash was tight...we call the Mission Statement `Suzie's Mission Statement' now.'' (Gee, apparently I touched a nerve.)
So let's talk about the handbook. This will be a somewhat detailed explanation about a subject that's often considered kind of dry. You can critically review your current handbook or use it as a guide to ``start from a blank sheet of paper'' and develop a new one.
On the inside cover or before the handbook really gets rolling, place ``Equal Opportunity'' and ``Employment-at-Will'' statements. The former communicates the company's quest for fairness. The latter statement says at the onset that an employee can leave your employ for any reason and vice versa.
Will the Employment-at-Will statement save your company from lawsuits? As long as there are people in the workplace-and hungry lawyers-we will have lawsuits. But it will be helpful in your defense.
The Welcome section or letter-This section provides the venue for a welcome letter from the owner, a brief history of the dealership, maybe a mention of the role the company has in the community. It also is the first place to introduce the company's mission statement.
Employment with the company or human resource policies and procedures-This section could cover any of the following areas:
* Employee orientation.
* Open-door policy. (Don't say you believe in an open-door policy if you will be irritated when the warehouse person walks into the owner's office with a question.)
* Personal appearance: This is the dress code section. The first time I wrote one of these sections for an employee handbook I questioned the need for it. Since then I have had questions from employers regarding what they can do about what they deem extremely inappropriate tattoos, nose/eyebrow/lip piercings, bright pink hair and of course the ever popular belly shirt question, etc.
* Work schedule.
* Absenteeism/late arrivals and the attendance policy: Remember that excessive absenteeism, even if it is excused, can still be cause for termination. A no-fault attendance policy designates points for absences. Once an employee hits a certain number of points they are terminated. Please note: Our clients who have switched to this type of policy have curbed their employees' absences.
* Lunch time and breaks.
* Safety/accident procedures/emergency procedures.
* Clean air environment: This is the non-smoking policy or designated smoking area policy.
* Use of communication systems: Do not overlook this chance to address workplace cell phone usage, picture phone usage and your company's e-mail system. Remember, everything on your company computers is discoverable in a lawsuit!
* Non-harassment policy: Make sure general harassment and sexual harassment are covered. It is prudent to also post this policy on your premises.
* Theft, fraud and operational wrongdoing: State that all bonus payments will be withheld if an employee is terminated for any of these reasons. Make sure the definition of ``operational'' is delineated by the dealership.
* Life-threatening illness and communicable diseases: Language dealing with the American with Disabilities Act could be outlined in this section.
* Solicitation and distribution: Although the language does not read as such, this typically is in a handbook to prevent union literature from being distributed in the tire center.
* Conflict of interest.
* Disabled veterans and veterans of the Vietnam era.
* Confidential information: If an employee leaving your company takes price lists, customer lists, etc., and he/she has not signed a confidential information policy or a conflict of interest policy, it will be more difficult for the dealership to pursue legal action.
Other areas to cover
A comprehensive employee handbook also should spell out the specific responsibilities of an employee. Included in this area are rules of conduct, which outline the ethical requirements of your workers.
Your company's drug and alcohol policy-and any testing procedures you require-should be noted, as well as how to report abuse, theft, etc.
In the section covering compensation, you should specify the following: salary and wage guidelines; timesheet requirements or electronic time and attendance systems; direct deposit; and paycheck frequency.
When explaining payroll deductions, make sure you include a statement that allows the dealership to deduct any ``owed money'' out of an employee's last paycheck.
Employees should be told that overtime is typically only required for actual hours worked over 40 in a week.
Also mention that any changes in personal status-marriage or divorce, for example-must be brought to the employer's attention.
Under the ``performance management'' heading are several areas that should be detailed:
Performance review-Only say your dealership gives performance reviews if you actually do that!
Corrective action-My experience has been that it is not in the best interest of the dealership or its employees to have a defined, written, progressive discipline procedure because it leaves virtually no leeway for either party. Additionally, if you have a defined discipline procedure, you have to actually follow that procedure.
Therefore, try to use language that provides everyone with options, such as: ``We are committed to helping our employees have a successful career at `AAA Dealership.' If at any time your performance is not meeting our standards and your job requirements, your supervisor will discuss your performance with you to determine what changes you can take to improve your performance. The dealership attempts to provide employees with a reasonable opportunity to correct performance problems. However, some actions are of such a serious nature that they may result in immediate termination.''
Reduction of employee hours or jobs-Make sure this section explains your company's policy in the event such reductions are ever necessary.
Benefits at a glance-In this section give highlights of all the benefits the dealership provides. Don't forget the less obvious benefits like workers' compensation, Social Security, unemployment compensation, continuation of medical benefits-including COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) language-Family Leave Act (if your dealership meets the legal requirements), access to a credit union, jury duty, etc.
This is not a time to be humble. Many employees only view their paycheck as ``what the company provides.''
Other important information-This section could cover any other topics that management or employees feel are important, such as advisory groups, customer relations, rewards for employee ideas, expense reimbursement, etc.
Less may be more
Your employee handbook should not be too long. It should be in a three-ring binder if the dealership is new and may make frequent changes. If your dealership is established, a printed paper handbook with a card stock cover will keep expenses down and still perform the purpose of a professional presentation.
Your company handbook should be presented to employees at their time of hire. They should review it and sign an ``Acknowledgement of Receipt,'' which should be kept in their file. Getting a signature on that is critical because you will need to produce it if you have any legal, wage and hour or equal employment opportunity problems.
If you decide to write a handbook and have never had one, also obtain the acknowledgement from all existing employees.
Your employee handbook is an opportunity to make an excellent first impression and protect your dealership at a very minimal expense. Good opportunities at a limited expense are not presented to us frequently, and when they are we should capitalize on them!
Mary Miles can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]