Some of the best things about technology are the traditions they’re challenging. We’re beginning to change the way we do business because technology solutions allow us to do things differently. But traditions are kinda hard to change.
Take, for instance, the employee handbook. Companies have been writing, printing and distributing employee handbooks for decades. The question becomes, are they valuable? Is there another way to provide employees the same information without killing a bunch of trees? Even if you’re storing the handbook online, you get my point. Employee handbooks are time consuming and expensive to produce.
And there’s a perception that employees don’t read them. I once had a boss who joked we should print the employee handbook on toilet paper and put it in the employee restrooms. That would insure the document was read. Again, I emphasize that he was joking.
I bring up the challenges with employee handbook because a friend of mine recently shared the story of a human resources manager who was getting considerable pushback from senior management about the need to have new hires sign for both the employee handbook and a whole bunch of separate policies (i.e. EEO policy, anti-harassment policy, PTO and attendance policy, I-9 policy, etc.)
This is a situation HR pros have dealt with for years. Human resources creates an employee handbook to protect the company. Let me add, HR doesn’t want to insult employees’ intelligence so they don’t read it to them. Meanwhile, employees are excited to start their new job. They’re making work friends and getting to know their new boss. So that 50-something page handbook gets shoved to the side. Employees swear they will read it someday. Well, maybe they do. Okay, they probably don’t.
Then, an incident happens. The employee’s manager goes to HR. During a meeting with the employee, HR and the manager explain that a rule has been broken or a policy not followed and there are consequences. That’s when an employee confesses that they forgot to read the handbook.
Now the company has a dilemma. If they cut the employee some slack, the company gets accused of not being compliant and consistent. And, depending upon the situation, the company can be liable. If the company enforces the policy or procedure, then the company can also be liable because the employee wasn’t properly informed of the handbook contents or policy guidelines. So HR doubles down and has the employee not only sign for the handbook but some of the individual policies in the handbook.
Larry Perlman, senior counsel with the firm of Foley & Lardner LLP, did a great job of explaining it from a legal point of view. “Employment law is like the proverbial tree falling in the forest, with nobody around to see it – if it isn’t in writing, assume it didn’t happen. That’s why written handbook policies are such a valuable tool. An employee claims that she was unaware of the open door policy, under which she could have reported harassment to a myriad of people? Show her the handbook she signed. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is requiring you to circulate a non-discrimination policy. Show them the handbook. Another employee claims he was not provided with information as to how to seek FMLA leave. Again, turn to the handbook.”
You might be saying to yourself, okay – I get it. But why did you title this post “Employees: You Need to Read This”? Well, because it all comes down to employees placing a value on paperwork. Do HR people understand that reading the employee handbook isn’t the same as reading “Game of Thrones”? Yes, they do. Do HR people want to spend their time creating, printing, and filing a bunch of documents? No, they don’t.
Every company has a core set of rules that comprise their culture. Some of them are required by law and others determined internally. Organizations want to know that employees understand the rules. Because when employees understand the rules, they can focus on being successful at work.
So for everyone’s sake (but mostly yours), read the employee handbook. And keep a copy someplace where you can regularly access it for reference.
Image taken by Sharlyn Lauby after speaking at the BlogHer Conference