|There are many reasons to write an employee handbook, or to
update the one you have if it is not as complete as you’d like. If
well-written, this document can save you lots of time and aggravation
down the road. It can also enhance employee performance by helping them
understand exactly what you expect. In addition, the handbook can be a
useful tool for orientation every time you hire new help. |
write a handbook? A high-quality employee handbook makes a statement to
your work force that they are important to the success of your
business, and it explains their role and responsibilities in achieving
that success. The handbook can improve communication with employees by
clearly laying out your expectations for their behavior – what they
should and should not do. This can make it easier to have ‘difficult
conversations’ when and if performance problems arise. By explaining
work procedures on paper, a handbook also helps assure that all farm
workers are treated fairly because they and their supervisors should
have a common understanding of expectations. Finally, legal claims by
disgruntled former employees may be prevented if you have an employment
handbook that clearly specifies expectations for all employee and the
consequences of not meeting those expectations. In short, a good
employee handbook can help avoid workplace problems while enhancing the
productivity of your labor force.
All new employees need answers
to obvious questions like "where should I park?” or "what are my work
hours?” and “when do I get paid?” They also need answers to questions
they may not ask, like “who do I call if I’m late?” or “when can I use
my cell phone?” They may not ask but they also need to know the answer
to the question “What will get me fired?”
What should be in the
handbook? An employee handbook can be as simple or as complicated as
your farm situation calls for. Large operations may want it to contain
detailed information about a variety of personnel policies, pay scales,
and benefits that probably require some legal advice before your
finalize them. Small operations may only need a few pieces of paper
that spell out the basics of how your farm works, what you expect from
your help, and how they have to behave if they want to keep their job.
are hundreds of topics that could be covered in an employee handbook,
but it’s a good idea to only include statements about issues that make
sense for your farm. What information is needed to orient new help,
meet a legal need, answer common questions that workers have, or
address past labor problems that could have been prevented? When a new
employee situation arises that may crop up again, be sure to modify
your farm handbook to address it. For example, rules about texting
during work probably weren’t included in employee handbooks a few years
Here are some suggestions about what an employee
handbook should contain. Start with an introduction, then cover general
farm procedures, personnel policies and legal statements such as a
non-discrimination policy. Within these sections can be many topics,
some of which are described below. Start by picking the topics that
seem most important to your farm, and write a simple, short summary
that all employees will understand.
Welcome the reader, your employee, to the farm. Explain that the
purpose of the handbook is to acquaint them with the farm, its policies
and rules as well as their benefits and privileges. If you have a
mission statement, include it. Provide some history of the farm
operation and describe the products and markets you serve. When you
hire an employee, ask them to read the entire handbook and keep it
around for future reference as questions arise.
employees understand your management style, it can be helpful to
describe the farm's organization as a business. Who are the owners? Who
will be the employee’s direct supervisor? List who is in charge of
different aspects of the farm such as field production, retail or
wholesale marketing, etc.
General Farm Information. These things
usually apply to everyone at the farm: managers, customers, and
employees. Smoking (or non-smoking policy); location of emergency
medical information, supplies, and eyewash station; certain sanitation
and safety issues such as footwear requirement, hand washing prior to
handling food for retail sale, observing posted warning signs, location
of public bathrooms, telephone, fire alarms or extinguishers. These
days, many farms have food safety plans and you may want to state that
all employees are required to read and follow that plan.
Policies. This is the core of your employee handbook. Describe the work
hours including daily and weekly schedule, days off, break times and
duration, overtime work, if any. Describe compensation issues including
how work time is recorded or calculated, starting pay rate, why and
when it may increase, the pay period, and payroll deductions. Be
specific about how employee performance can lead to raises or bonuses.
Is there a probationary period before wages or hours are increased or
responsibilities are expanded? How is employee performance evaluated,
by whom, and how often?
Expectations about the working
environment should be spelled out: explain where employees are allowed
to park, wash, go to the bathroom, eat or prepare meals, take breaks,
smoke, make phone calls. What type of clothing, footwear, protective
equipment (such as hats and sunscreen) should they bring to work?
What is your policy about their use of farm equipment and farm
vehicles? Who may apply pesticides, fertilizers or other farm
chemicals? How are employees expected to behave in the presence of
The terms of employment on some seasonal farms is
‘employment at will’ where either party can end the relationship at any
time for any reason. If this is so, state that clearly. If you are have
a contractual relationship with an employee, that will likely be
negotiated on an individual basis and the terms will be in a separate
Vacation time, personal leave time, sick leave should
be addressed. Under what circumstances, if any, is an employee eligible
for paid leave? Who should the employee call to report if they will be
absent or tardy? How much notice would you like to receive and in turn
expect to offer if circumstances allow? What should employees expect
with regard to the timing and duration of winter layoffs?
should be described. What insurance are employees eligible for? Spell
out that under the law they are covered by workers compensation and
must report any injuries promptly to their supervisor and also fill out
the appropriate paperwork. If employees can get have free food or buy
products at a discount from the farm describe this arrangement.
Make a list of actions that are grounds for disciplinary action,
including termination of employment. Drug or alcohol use, theft,
harassment, fighting, intentional damage to equipment, possession of
weapons, disregard for safety, insubordination are behaviors that
should be expressly prohibited.
Conflict Resolution. If an
employee has a disagreement with a peer or a supervisor, whom should
they take it to? If they have a grievance about a policy or practice,
what are their options?
Legal statements. You should include a
statement of non-discrimination and equal opportunity in your handbook.
You may also want a statement about conflict of interest, which
prohibits employees from having an interest in a business operation
that would compete with your farm. Finally, include a statement
that the handbook is not a contract but rather a guide for employees.
resources. The University of Minnesota has a checklist that covers many
topics to choose from to include in a farm employee handbook: http://www1.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/dairy/employees/schwartauemployee-handbook-development-guide.pdf
The Ministry of Agriculture in British Columbia has a good example of a small vegetable farm employee handbook: