It may be a dull task to write an employee handbook, but it is not a thankless one. 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.
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 guts of how your farm works, what you expect from your help, and how they have to behave if they want to keep their job.
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 “what will get me fired?”
An employee handbook is one way to help “socialize” new employees to the farm, by explaining key points about your management style, the farm business, and why things are done in particular ways.
There are hundreds of topics that could be covered in an employee handbook, but it’s a good idea to keep it simple. Include statements on a particular issue only if you have a good reason to, such orienting new help, meeting a legal need, answering common questions, or to address a situation that came up in the past.
Here are some suggestions about what an employee handbook should contain: an introduction and overview of the farm business, general farm information, personnel policies, and various legal statements. 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.
Introduction. 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.
To help 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.
Personnel 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 customers?
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 document.
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?
Benefits 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.
Discipline. 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.
For more information, order the 39-page book “Writing an Employee
Handbook: A Guide for Farm Managers” for $7.75 plus $2 shipping from: The
Resource Center Cornell University, PO Box 3884, Ithaca NY, 14852-3884.
(607) 255-2080 or E-mail: email@example.com
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