Set Employee Expectations

November 12, 2013 08:41 PM
 
Knirk and an employee

Handbooks help communications

An important component of management is keeping employees informed about farm practices, expectations and policies, but these can easily get overlooked with the day-to-day operations of the farm.

Studies show worker retention and productivity is highest at businesses that communicate worker rights and responsibilities through policy handbooks written in a format that is easy to understand, according to the Washington Farm Labor Association.

"At the most basic level, a handbook serves as motivation for employees," says Adam Belzberg, an employment lawyer at Graham & Dunn PC. "It also shows that you are an organized business and have your act together."

A handbook not only helps set the stage for your business, but it helps to communicate with workers about your expectations and conditions of employment, explains Melissa O’Rourke, Iowa State University Extension farm and agribusiness management specialist.

"Handbooks can be short and simple or highly detailed, depending on your needs," she says.

Whether you employ four people or 50, a handbook with the right elements can help prevent and defend harassment, discrimination and wrongful termination claims.

Lower Liability. Belzberg says one of the most important items to include in the handbook is a harassment policy and complaint procedure, which removes some liability. "This alone is worth the time and effort to create a handbook," he says.

Other topics to consider including are farm background, rules and standards, wages and benefits, and employee relationships.

O’Rourke cautions farmers not to use the handbook as a replacement for good communication practices. "Nothing can take the place of good interpersonal communications in the workplace," she says. "This is one component of good on-farm communications and should complement regular farm meetings, training and face-to-face feedback, both positive and constructive." 

Items to Include:

Farm Background: In this section, you can share information about your farm’s history, the mission and vision, as well as your core values, says Melissa O’Rourke, Iowa State University Extension farm and agribusiness management specialist. What principles lie at the heart of the operation? What type of practices does the farm employ? Are there characteristics that set you apart from your neighbors or the competition? These are all items that can be woven into this section.

Rules and Standards:
Here is where you outline standards of conduct, work rules and other information that lets employees know what is expected of them, O’Rourke says, noting that new employees have questions as basic as what to wear, where to park and where to eat lunch. Also include the farm’s safety policy and livestock handling policy.

Wages and Benefits:
Employees need to know when and how often they will be paid. "Many employees are interested in knowing what types of opportunities they have to earn a raise or a bonus," O’Rourke says. "This is worthwhile to include, as well as the parameters behind your disciplinary system, if you have one in place." It’s also good to share your evaluation process. Explain the benefits that you provide, such as health insurance, dental insurance and 401k plan. Even benefits such as the opportunity to obtain farm-raised meat could be mentioned in this section, she says.

Employee Relationship:
Most states, but not all, have an at-will employment relationship. Be careful that your employee handbook does not accidentally create a contract with the employee, cautions O’Rourke, noting that most businesses include a clear statement citing that employment is at will. Here’s an example: "Our farm does not offer guaranteed employment. Either the farm or the employee can terminate the employment relationship at any time, with or without cause, with or without notice. This is ‘employment at-will.’ This at-will relationship exists regardless of any other written statements or policies contained in this handbook."  

For more information and sample employee handbooks, visit www.TopProducer-Online.com/Employee_Handbook.

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