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Getting on the Same Page with Employee Handbooks (Conclusion)

What dry cleaners should include to provide clear expectations for employment

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Unclear expectations can lead to trouble down the line during an employee’s time at a drycleaning company. By developing an employee handbook, however, these expectations, of both the employee and employer, can stop a lot of these problems before they begin.

This was the message of Beth Milito, executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), during a recent webinar on the topic.

In Part 1 of this series, we explored the broad topics that employee handbooks should addressed, and in Part 2, we began our examination of essential policies that should be included in such a document. Today, we’ll conclude by listing the remaining elements that should be addressed in a dry cleaner's employee handbooks. 

Essential Policies of an Employee Handbook

6. Attendance and Remote Work Policy — “This is a documented set of rules that puts forth clear and consistent expectations for employees,” Milito says. “This can be difficult in businesses of all sizes, not just small businesses, to consistently enforce these policies. Make sure you are putting in place a realistic policy and one that you yourself will be able to follow. If any of your employees have families or young children, for example, they’re likely going to be juggling emergencies. If they are caregivers and you institute a zero-tolerance attendance policy, which was big 15 or 20 years ago, that’s just not realistic.”

To combat the pandemic, many companies allowed workers, if possible, to work remotely. This is something, Milito says, that needs to be discussed in the handbook. 

“I recently saw a survey that found one in four employees said they would quit their job if they couldn’t work remotely, at least some of the time,” she says. 

One of the greatest concerns for companies in shifting to remote work is making sure productivity stays high, Milito says, and there’s no negative impact on day-to-day operation. Your remote work policy should explain employee expectations while working from home, covering items such as working hours, availability for in-person meetings, communication and equipment.

When it comes to attendance and punctuality policies, Milito says, “sometimes it’s good to explain why you’re requiring employees to do this.” A sample in a handbook could read “Absenteeism and tardiness put a burden on your co-workers. In rare instances where you cannot avoid being late to work, or if you are unable to work as scheduled, you must notify your supervisor as soon as possible.”

“This gives some flexibility because again, life happens,” Milito says, “and I think a policy that gives employers a bit of wiggle room and takes account of the fact that employees have lives outside of the business is reasonable. You don’t want to have a ‘one-strike’ policy because that sets employees up for failure and you might lose some good workers.”

7. Leave and Time Off Policy — This section, Milito says, should cover rules and procedures regarding time-off benefits, including vacation, holidays, sick leave, leaves of absence or medical leaves, and leave required by law (such as voting leave, family leave, and domestic violence leave).

“This has gotten so much trickier over the last 10 years or so because of the increasing number of state paid sick leave laws,” Milito says. “Check your local and state laws, because you can really be tripped up here. Generally, states do not require any sort of vacation benefits for employees, but most employers do offer this benefit. And more and more employers are moving from vacation and sick leave policies to one comprehensive paid time-off bucket.”

Time-off policies are very important to employees, Milito notes, so make this section as simple and clear as possible.

8. Discipline Policy — “This is an area where I say vaguer is better,” Milito says. “Less is more. Many employers go through the three stages, starting with a verbal warning, escalating to written warnings for second violations, and then termination. If there’s misconduct — you catch an employee stealing, or there’s a physical altercation on the premises — you’re just going to want to fire the person on the spot.”

When it comes to defining the policy in the employee handbook, Milito believes that it should contain three core elements — definitions of the types of behaviors that are unacceptable, along with examples; an explanation of the consequences of those behaviors, and the process by which the consequences will escalate to termination; and contact information for questions, issues or concerns. 

9. Health and Safety Policy — “Many companies and businesses actually have separate health and safety handbooks or policies,” Milito says, “and depending on your industry, it might be required. But in the employee handbook, it’s good to have a section that, at a very high level, describes safety and emergency procedures, and most importantly requires employees to report work-related injuries immediately.”

Milito also points out that some regulations under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) require employers to have specific policies and programs in place if certain workplace hazards exist (such as a hazard communication program if certain chemicals are present in the workplace).

10. Privacy — “This is a very big deal in the age of cellphone and computer usage at the workplace,” Milito says. “If you plan to enforce a privacy policy, and many businesses do, ensure that you’re very explicit about the company’s expectations.”

Details in the privacy policy portion of the handbook may include the employee’s right to inspect and copy their employee records, drug and alcohol testing policies, the company’s rights to search company property, cellphone use expectations and limits, and policies about the use of computers and electronic equipment while at work and how that might reduce a reasonable expectation of privacy.

“Also,” she says, “be aware that privacy laws vary from state to state. There are more states enacting privacy laws that give employees some rights. This is an area that you do want to make sure you’re not stepping afoul of any privacy laws in your state.”

Final Acknowledgement

“You want to make sure that employees acknowledge receipt of the handbook,” Milito says, noting that the employees agree they have received it, as well as they understand they are employed at-will by the company, and that the company may revise the handbook at any time.

“It’s very easy nowadays to make employee handbooks accessible online and via mobile devices,” Milito says. “So, if you have a new employee starting, you can print out a copy and give it to them on their first day. For existing employees, you can just put it online and then have everybody sign an acknowledgment, which can also be done electronically. Just make sure you keep the acknowledgment forms.”                  

For Part 1 of this series, click HERE. For Part 2, click HERE.


Getting on the Same Page with Employee Handbooks

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Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Dave Davis at [email protected].