Managing a Small Business
Mistakes to Avoid - Policies Avoid Problems


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Mistakes to Avoid

Policies Avoid Problems

Some people view company policies as a sign of encroaching bureaucracy and avoid issuing or observing them like the plague. There are even a few publicized cases of relatively large companies that have enjoyed tremendous success without benefit of company policies.

However, you will find that if you don’t have some company policies, you will soon find yourself in a situation in which you wish you did. Policies can make it clear to employees what kind of behavior is expected in your workplace. They can set clear guidelines on what is and isn’t appropriate. And policies can help you avoid, or at least defend against, lawsuits.

Employee handbooks
If you have more than a dozen employees, you should consider creating a company policy book, often referred to as an employee handbook. This type of book lays out in clear, simple language the patterns of behavior that are or are not acceptable within your workplace. These policies should be aimed at both managers and staff alike. A well-done handbook will go a long way toward protecting you against some employment-related legal claims.

If you do decide to create an employee handbook, have an attorney who specializes in employment issues review the document before you issue it to your employees.

Remember, too, that although you are the employer, you must follow the rules outlined in your employee handbook yourself and meet any requirements or responsibilities you have set within. Company policy books have been seen by the courts as legally binding contracts between employers and employees. Numerous employees have won lawsuits against companies because the employer has not honored the terms or conditions in their own handbooks.

Sexual harassment
Sexual harassment occurs in all types of workplaces, in all areas of the country, in all countries all over the world. You personally may not have witnessed it or been a victim of it, especially if you are a male, but believe me it exists!

Most women, and some men, have experienced sexual harassment during their careers. Many employees who do so become extremely upset by it. Even the perception of sexual harassment can have a very negative effect on employee—and, oftentimes, on everyone else in the workplace.

As an employer or manager, take the high road. Make it very clear to people that your firm is strongly against sexual harassment, not just because it is unlawful, but because it just isn’t right. Most, if not all, of your employees will appreciate your position. If there are objections among members of your staff, they aren’t the type of employee you want in your workplace anyway!

Sexual harassment is one of the most common grounds for employee-initiated lawsuits in our country. As an employer, you are responsible for your own actions, the actions of your supervisors. and your workplace atmosphere. If the environment you provide to your employees is or is deemed to be conducive to sexually negative behavior, such as sexually oriented joking, you are legally vulnerable.

You need to state a clear policy against sexual harassment within your workplace. You need to take appropriate action against any employee who either condones sexual harassment or violates sexual harassment policies. And you need to assign an impartial party as the person with whom sexual harassment complaints can be registered. This allows employees to lodge complaints with someone other than their immediate supervisor, which could be a serious problem if the supervisor is the person the complaint is about.

Equal opportunity
In hiring and promoting personnel you need to be sure that you are an equal-opportunity employer—that women, minorities, people of all ages, people of all religions, etc. have an equal chance of employment or promotion at your firm. Under current U.S. law you also need to undertake some expenditures, if necessary and with the value being dependent upon the size of your company, to employ physically challenged people.

Take the high road. Make an effort to hire and promote people equally. It is the law, and it is the right thing to do.

You want to make sure that all supervisors are careful not to discriminate in their hiring and promoting practices. You also want to make sure that they are completely apprised of which questions are appropriate and legal to ask during interviews and which ones are not.

Being an equal-opportunity employer is not easy. Most people, yourself probably included, find it easiest to relate to those individuals who most closely mirror themselves. It is a natural human tendency to hire and promote those individuals whom you like. .So if, for instance, an engineering department manager is a white male you would need to make sure he doesn’t overtly or subconsciously overlook any qualified nonwhite or female candidates when he is interviewing for a new staff engineer.

Business dress is becoming increasingly casual. Many companies even designate a particular day, seasonally or year-round, as casual day. And some companies waste a significant amount of time defining what is and what is not appropriate as casual wear. It really isn’t necessary, though, to spend too much time developing a dress code. Think simple.

If you don’t greet customers or clients in your workplace, you may want to skip having a formal dress code. One exception might be offensive dress—skimpy outfits or T-shirts that carry profane messages or images. Of course, this liberal policy may result in sloppy dress on the part of some employees, but the rewards you reap by showing respect for your employees will be worth it.

If customers or clients frequent your workplace set a few basic standards for dress for those employees who interact with the public—shirts, not T-shirts; slacks, not jeans; shoes, not sneakers; and skirts, not shorts.

Set regular office or shift hours. You may want to offer certain employees reasonable flex-time schedules to accommodate special needs. For example, if an employee needs to arrive later and leave later to manage child care arrangements, you may allow him or her a working hour variance. But you should still insist that all employees observe a consistent schedule. By setting reasonable office hours, you will appear fair to all employees and will avoid having to memorize a myriad of different work schedules.

Even if an employee works overtime, you should require that he or she start each day at the designated starting time. Make no exceptions to standard or flex-time working hours unless the circumstances are extraordinary.

Avoid setting policies regarding personal phone usage, local or long-distance. The results of no policy may be reflected in your phone bills but the results of a specific policy will be reflected in employee attitude. You will be viewed as petty and, for this, employees will resent you.

Obviously, if a particular employee abuses your liberal phone policies action is called for. Sometimes a chat will do or you may have to make it difficult for the employee to access the phone altogether. Termination should not be an option if the employee performs satisfactorily otherwise.

There will always be dating in the workplace, whether you like it or not. This is especially true if you have young, single employees on staff. And, however unfortunate, it may even happen if you only happen to employ married people.

It certainly seems intrusive to regulate people’s personal lives. Weigh the considerations and make your own decision. Things do get sticky in office romances—especially if the romance isn’t between peers. If a supervisor dates a reporting staff member, the staff member may receive a glowing, but undeserved, performance review. Or, in the event of a breakup between someone in management and someone on staff, a recommendation that the staff member be dismissed for “unmanageable behavior” might result. Issues of sexual harassment might be raised if a staff employee declines to date someone in management. Because these types of situations breed tension and much worse, you may want to consider prohibiting management from dating anyone who reports to them directly.

More and more workplaces in more and more areas are being deemed smoke-free by law. Nonsmokers like and greatly appreciate smoke- free working environments, but this can be a tremendous source of tension for smokers.

You need to state a clear smoking policy. If one person smokes, you aren’t working in a smoke-free environment.

You need to inform new hires of your smoking policy. If the new employee is a smoker, he or she might be shocked to find no one is allowed to puff away at his or her desk. Or nonsmokers may be greatly upset to find that their fellow workers can and do smoke in the office.

If someone is a smoker, and you have declared the office a smoke-free workplace, just what are the smokers supposed to do. Go outside? Well, typically that is the resolution. But it’s cold in winter, and butts on the front sidewalk are unsightly. At our office, I found it unattractive to have people congregated in front of the building smoking, so we recently moved the smoking area to a remote side door. I know I can’t make both smokers and nonsmokers happy, but, like most firms, I have a lot more people who don’t smoke.

Employee loans
Most employees don’t have strong financial educations and don’t have the discipline to manage their finances. I suggest that you allow employees who have been with you for a few months to borrow modest amounts of money for short periods of time. And don’t charge interest—it’s just too petty. But do deduct the payback out of each payroll check and have the employee sign a simple demand note stating the amount loaned, the payment schedule, and a clause stipulating that the loan be immediately payable in full should the employee leave the company for any reason.

Set a limit on the amount you will agree to lend to any employee—and do this in advance of any requests. Sooner or later you will lose money when an employee leaves and you find that you cannot collect. But despite this drawback, remember, in the long run an employee loan policy will strengthen your firm.

I lost about $2,000 when one long-term employee was fired several years ago and I was unable to recover my loan. But I have loaned money to hundreds of other employees over a period of years without incident.

* Source Streetwise Business Tips

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