Duncan Consulting, Inc. - Growth through Knowledge.
Duncan Consulting, Inc. - Growth through Knowledge.

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Strategic Defense from the Enemy Within

By: Johnny Duncan

Businesses today are susceptible to infection with a deadly disease. This disease is called employee litigation, and it can wipe out an entire business with infiltration of just one bug. The good news is that there is a vaccine available and although you may not completely rid your business of the infection, you can minimize the pain and discomfort caused by it. If you follow the prescribed steps, and get periodic checkups, your business should live a long, healthy life.

The first step toward creating a healthy business is to put in place tools that help communicate to your employees information that shows them the company’s course, provides information for them to do their jobs better and informs them of what is expected. This makes your business’s defense system stronger than a business that leads by seat-of-the-pants policies. The “bug” that can lead to the disease is stopped or rendered not as effective if you have your defenses up.

Having an employee handbook or policies in place serves many purposes. First, you’ve immediately improved morale when you establish a written plan, policy, or handbook for your employees. Simply by constructing these documents, you’ve expressed an interest in your team. This speaks volumes and the effort does not go unnoticed.

Second, employee handbooks serve as a guideline for everyone – employees and management. It offers the game plan for most situations that will be encountered on a day-to-day basis, and provides information that can be referred to when a team member is in doubt of how to handle something.

Third, handbooks and policies provide the rules for handling unique situations such as discipline, termination, jury duty, military leave, and much more. These tools of communication leave no doubt in anyone’s mind the results certain behavior will bring.

Once an employee signs that they have received an employee handbook or that they understand specific policies, the potential for litigation is stopped in its tracks. Think of these documents as Echinacea boosting the immune system of your business. Having something as straightforward as an employee handbook in place strengthens your defense and serves as a great instrument for relaying the direction of the company.

Writing effective policies to protect your business from your employees involves keeping a critical eye on the business objectives. Those objectives should serve as a standard for evaluating each aspect of the policy. Obviously, a policy should state the purpose within the policy so that employees clearly understand your viewpoint. Additionally, these policies should support the company’s mission and match the company’s culture.

When creating policies, you need to anticipate all barriers to enforcement such as regulatory constraints or difficulties with tracking and monitoring employee behaviors relevant to the policy, and craft the policy in a way that accounts for those factors. Also, be sure to include the rules and procedures of the policy, such as who the policy applies to, what must be done to comply, what is prohibited, any known exceptions, and the consequences of failing to comply.

Policies should be constructed to give you some discretion when it is time to interpret and enforce them. They should include provisions for adding to and deleting from a policy manual or handbook with the knowledge and acceptance of the employees.

Finally, in order to reduce employee resistance to an employee handbook, you should write the policy from a positive viewpoint and include input from employees where possible. This gives a sense of ownership and pride in the book. If the tone of a policy pits managers against employees or seems punitive, the handbook is unlikely to achieve the desired purpose.

Johnny Duncan is President of Duncan Consulting, Inc., a human resources consulting service. Contact him with people challenges and small business questions at Johnny@DuncanConsult.com or by calling 407-739-0718