Employee Handbook Essentials

February 26, 2013 08:46 PM

Take the opportunity to share values and expectations

Every day more farmers realize the value of an employee handbook. Too often, they realize this value after experiencing an issue that could have been easily resolved if a handbook were already in place, says Chuck Schwartau, a University of Minnesota Extension farm management specialist.
Farmers should think of an employee handbook as a valuable communication resource between the employer and employee. It provides information related to the farm’s history, mission, values, policies, procedures and benefits.

"Setting the proper tone in your workplace is an essential step to a successful relationship with workers."

Tom Maloney from Cornell University says there are four key reasons for having an employee handbook: 1) Improve the image of the farm by conveying that employees are important and that the farm has carefully thought out employee policies. 2) Aid communication with employees. 3) Help assure that all employees are treated fairly and consistently. 4) Encourage farms to face important decisions about employee policies rather than continuing to postpone them.

"The first reason shows the farm regards itself as a professionally operated business that values doing things correctly," says Schwartau. "An employee handbook takes time to create and will need fine-tuning to meet the needs of the farm."

Studies show worker retention and productivity is highest at businesses that clearly communicate worker rights and responsibilities through policy handbooks, according to the Washington Farm Labor Association. Setting the proper tone in your workplace is key to a successful relationship with workers.

Put it on Paper. Developing an employee handbook can be a daunting task, but experts give their advice to help you succeed.

First, if you have policies and procedures, then review and use those as a starting point. If you don’t have policies, develop them. These policies should be reviewed by legal counsel and a final copy used as the building blocks for the handbook.

The second step is to create an outline of what needs to be included in the employee handbook. Topics should include the business’ mission statement, equal employment opportunity statement, contractual disclaimer and at-will statement, purpose of the handbook and background information about the farm. Other items are optional, but important factors to include are federal and state laws that affect employees. A few of these are the Family and Medical Leave Act, anti-discrimination laws, Americans with Disabilities Act and Fair Labor Standards Act.

Once you’ve determined what to include, create a summary of each policy. These summaries should be clear and concise, and contain no legal verbiage. Place the summaries in their respective sections. Next, write the company positions, rules or policies under each of the outline topics. It’s important to spend time reviewing the handbook to make sure it reflects the business, is accurate and easy to comprehend. Provide the final version to legal counsel for review to ensure that there are no contractual agreements.

Once approved, you’ll want to select a vendor and have it printed. Finally, a distribution method needs to be determined, such as during new-hire orientation or a manual distribution to employees. Some employers post the handbook online, but it’s important to have printed copies for those who do not have Internet at home.

The handbook should change as your business changes. Be sure to appoint a person to review
and update the handbook yearly or as needed.

The content of employee handbooks varies from business to business. Visit www.TopProducer-Online.com/Handbook for more tips.

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