BEC: The employee handbook
Businesses today often underestimamte the importance and capability of what they have recorded in black and white.
The employee handbook is the blueprint of the company; it is where you sensitise your employees to what is expected.
It allows you to differentiate your house from the other across the street and most importantly, set your standards. Therefore, code black is indeed an appropriate expression in this regard.
Go on, retrieve that book which has disappeared to the bottom of the drawer and you will be amazed at the various topics that are covered or should be covered in your handbook. Subject areas such as the history of the company, human resource polices and procedures, attendance management, compensation, professional conduct and ethics, code of discipline and health and safety, to name a few.
Was the employee oriented?
When you consider the continuous issues that arise throughout the financial/calendar year surrounding discipline, attendance or even professionalism, it begs the question of whether the employee was in fact oriented.
In an ever changing business environment, where different human resources management is needed to ensure a business can operate at its optimum potential, human resource practitioneers or even managers or supervisors should aim not to be consumed with counselling employees on issues such as personal appearance on a consistent basis.
Arguably, there may be situations that arise where an employee may decide to step outside of the clearly defined boundaries, but on any given day the collective workforce should have a clear understanding of what is or is not acceptable.
Notably, employers must also assume the responsibility of ensuring that the employees have read and understood this vital document. In other words, providing a handbook is not enough.
Employers must ensure that the language is clear and precise to avoid any ambiguity; avoid using vague language that leaves room for interpretation; there must be a clear understanding of the policies and procedures which can be attained by using examples; should not justify the policy or practice but simply outline.
Support for managers and supervisors
It is important to be reminded that the handbook lends critical support to companies’ line managers and supervisors; for example, the handbook allows managers/supervisors to clearly spot and address violations.
When relying on loosely defined and undocumented standards, violations may become subjective and open to interpretation, thus having an employee handbook can provide guidance and certainty to the decision-making process.
It is a tool for both the employer and the employee which has the potential of improving employee morale and reassuring them of the benefits, short or long term, of their labour.
Dare to ask yourself two questions: Is this even necessary? Is it legally enforceable? Once you have made reference to the employee handbook in the employment contract as forming part of the terms and conditions of employment, then it is indeed legally binding upon the signing of the contract by the employee.
The Red Book created and produced by the Barbados Employers’ Confederation (BEC), also makes this quite clear; it goes as far as to provide sample clauses.
All businesses should have a document of this nature as it is a guideline for the employment relationship.
Update the handbook
Within the current industrial relations environment, it would also prove beneficial to review or update the handbook periodically; it is an adaptable and transparent tool that allows for integrity.
So let us pause for a moment and consider the company and its philosophy, the ethical position, the standards we would like to uphold, the policies that we would like to communicate, the benefits of working with the company, the health and safety precautions in place; are these areas covered adequately within your employee handbook?
Are they in alignment with the law? I implore you to take a closer look at this tool.
We extend our services here at the BEC to you should you need assistance in doing so, but you should take that closer look. If not for the sake of safeguarding your company, let it be for the sake of enhancing it.
Perhaps not in these exact words, but an unknown author once said that when we leverage we aggregate and organise existing resources to achieve success.
Have a productive day.
Kara Sealy is research officer with the Barbados Employers’ Confederation.