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Workplace Internal Policies

>>AMY SUSAN: Hi, I’m Amy Susan, Director of Communications for the Missouri Department of Labor.  Last week we talked about social media in the workplace and provided some guidelines for employees and employers.  This week we’re talking more about internal policies often referred to as the employee handbook.  It’s part of our second installment of the Labor Talk Human Resource Series.  And I’m joined here with Tammy Cavender.  She’s the Director of the Human Resources section within the Department.  Now, naturally, Tammy, with your job I’m sure you see a lot of this, disgruntled employees, as well as upset managers and supervisors.  Can you share with us some of the concerns that you see on a daily basis?

>>TAMMY CAVENDER: Well, every day is different, but traditionally, managers approach me about staff tardiness issues, either the employee is late to work consistently or late back from lunch or they’re late to a meeting that they’re required to attend.  So just general attendance issues.

>>SUSAN: How important is it for employers to have internal policies or an employee handbook?  I’m thinking about some of the smaller companies that may have five or ten staff.  Why would it be important for them?

>>CAVENDER: No matter the size of the organization, unless you’re both the boss and the employee, it is a key factor for a successful organization to put these internal policies in place as guidelines for staff.  It sets up the expectations right up front for that employee so they understand that in addition to the technical job that I’m responsible for performing, I also need to adhere to the company policies.  Smaller companies should consider implementing internal policies if they have not already done so.  What they want to avoid is showing favoritism to one employee over another in certain similar situations.  That simply leads to internal grievances, filing of EEO complaints, and even potentially lawsuits.  So it’s important that employees know on a daily basis what is expected of them.  A good idea is for an employer to have that employee sign an acknowledgment saying that the employee has read and understands the policy.

>>SUSAN: Now I’m sure there’s some situations where an employee encounters some rule that’s in the policy or in the handbook that they’ve never seen before and may view it as unreasonable or uncommon, such as now everyone has to wear green socks rather than red sock, or they have to wear a certain lanyard for their badge and in the past they were able to provide their own.  If they find something that’s unreasonable or uncommon, does that mean that they can overlook it?

>>CAVENDER: No.  If it is in the policy, regardless of the reason, the employee needs to adhere to it.  That employer had a reason for putting it in the policy and having it addressed.  Employees need to realize that they don’t have to agree with the policy.  They don’t have to like the policy.  But when they accept employment with that organization they are accepting those terms of employment.  They are agreeing to adhere to those company policies.

>>SUSAN: We recently spoke with a representative from a company who works with thousands of employers in the state.  They help them with their bookkeeping, their taxes, and providing guidance on internal policies.  Doug Johnson, from Talx, says having a general policy can be as bad as not having one at all.

>>DOUG JOHNSON: I do think that the more specific the policy, the easier it is to enforce it so that if an employer has a very general or broad policy, it’s more difficult to enforce.  The more specific, the clearer the violation when the employee goes against it.

>>SUSAN: Tammy, do you agree with what Doug said?

>>CAVENDER: Yes, absolutely.  Employers need to make sure that their instructions and their directions are clear and concise, leaving very little room for interpretations from employees.  Employees should not have to guess on these particular issues.

>>SUSAN: How important is it for employers to update their policies?

>>CAVENDER: It is as important for an organization to review and update their policies as it is to have the policy in the first place.  The scope of the organization may change, job expectations may change, and it’s important that the organization review policies, update and communicate that back to employees.

>>SUSAN: And again, it’s up to the employer to notify the employees of the changes and for the employees to know the new policies and follow them, right?

>>CAVENDER: Correct.

>>SUSAN: So how can these office policies stay fresh in one’s mind, especially if a worker is busy doing their actual job?

>>CAVENDER: As I mentioned before, Amy, when an employee accepts a job with an organization they are agreeing to both the technical side of the work, as well as adhering to the policies.  As far as the employer’s perspective, they need to be sure and review those policies, update them and communicate those back to employees through training sessions, on-line manuals.  If they have an employee handbook available, making sure that that’s accessible for the employee so that when a question arises, that employee has easy access to find the answer.

>>SUSAN: So, Tammy, bottom line, why is it so important for an employer to have internal policies?

>>CAVENDER: It is an effective way for employers to set out expectations for the employees.  An employer cannot expect employees to come into the organization and know what their policies are, what the dress code is, what the call-in procedure is.  So it’s the employer’s responsibility to communicate that to the employee.  It’s both a protection for the employer and the employee.

>>SUSAN: Well, Tammy, thanks for joining us today.

>>CAVENDER: Thank you.

>>SUSAN: Next week we will talk more about consequences for violating policies and further explain what we mean when we say employment conduct and how both of those relate to termination and unemployment.  Thanks.