Employee Handbooks - A Valuable Management Tool
Dr. Bernie Erven, Professor Emeritus
Ohio State University
Communicating with employees challenges even the best labor managers.
Solution to this problem starts with choice of the correct communication channel. Just "telling them" usually doesn't get the job done. Written communication in the form of an employee handbook is a highly recommended tool.
Having an employee handbook should improve communication with employees.
But even more important in some cases, writing the handbook forces the farm labor manager to address in detail questions often left unclear to the employee.
- Exactly what is the sick leave policy?
- Does coming two hours late because of sickness count as a sick day?
- Do all employees get sick days or just the full-time employees?
- If an employee gets three paid sick days per year but doesn't use them, do the sick days carry forward to the next year?
Of course, an employee handbook can not answer every imaginable question about sick leave policy or any other policy. It can answer those questions most often causing confusion with employees.
Writing a high quality and useful employee handbook requires careful planning of what is to be included, dedication to the task, careful review for clarity of what is in the handbook, and the help of the entire management team and at least one key employee.
Four good reasons to have an employee Handbook
Write an Employee Handbook for Your Farm!Vern Grubinger Vegetable and Berry Specialist University of Vermont Extension
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.
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.
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.
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
- 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.
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 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.
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? Whom 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 compensation and must report any injuries promptly to their supervisor and, also fill out the appropriate paperwork. If employees can 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.
If an employee has a disagreement with a peer or a supervisor, to whom should they take the problem? If they have a grievance about a policy or practice, what are their options?
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.
Include a statement that the handbook is not a contract but rather a guide for employees.
There are additional resources available to help you write your Employee or Personnel Policy handbook.
Writing an Employee Handbook: A Guide for Farm Managers by Thomas R. Maloney and Kristine T. Petracek available from the Cornell University Resource Center. click here for more information.
The purpose of this guide is to help employers think through their personnel policies and issues and write them down in a concise, understandable way. It is intended to help farm employers, owners and managers create a customized employee handbook that is an effective management tool. Schedules, pay, benefits, termination, and how to enforce policies and rules are covered. This guide also makes it easy to change and update an employee handbook and use it to orient new employees. Legal considerations of a handbook are included as well as organizational and often missed details.
Labor Management in Ag: Cultivating Personnel Productivity By Gregory Encina Billikopf of the University of California can be used as a reference in farm policy development. The final chapter is an outline of topics for an employee handbook. The book can be ordered, or you may download individual chapters here. It is also available in Spanish.
The USDA Forest Service Employee Handbook Template [http://www.na.fs.fed.us/wihispanic/Default.htm] provides everything you need to easily create a customized employee handbook. The policies are general in nature and should be customized with your own business information. Some are ready to use and can be simply inserted into your handbook; you will be prompted to "fill in the blanks" when necessary. Further editing may be done to tailor the sections to your specific requirements. The employee handbook can be printed in English and/or Spanish.
Last modified January 26 2006 10:47 AM