The Employee Handbook Comes First
Employee handbooks are an important part of any organization--no matter how large or small. A well-written employee handbook protects both the employer and the employee by spelling out expectations on both sides. It is a good idea to craft your handbook prior to hiring employees to guarantee that you treat everyone consistently. The basic information your handbook should include is your company’s policy on pay, benefits, dress code, leave, drugs, alcohol, and harassment. In addition, your employee handbook should clearly state your company’s core values. It is much easier to address personnel issues, such as attendance or punctuality, when you can refer to the handbook. It is always a good idea to have a tear-out signature page in the handbook with a statement of understanding. These pages can be kept in each employee’s file. In the event an employee needs to be terminated due to a violation of company policy, this page serves you, the employer, as your protection. Once you have the handbook in place, be sure to review it once a year to update for recent federal and state laws that may have changed. In recent years there has been a flurry of mandates from the federal government that force the small business owner to pay more attention to these matters than ever before.
If you have access to information from a trade organization or  have a mentor within your industry, don’t be shy about asking for a template of their employee handbook. Starting out, it’s hard to know exactly how to construct the handbook. Nonetheless, do your best to get that information before you hire your first employee. A small businessman I know, when starting out, was very anxious to get things rolling. He had his office set up and had selected a great employee to come to work for him. Prior to hiring, he had not given much thought to what his specific vacation policy would be. In his offer letter to that first employee, he made a loose statement about vacation and didn’t give it another thought. Later, as he got into the administrative details of running his business, he decided to use a template for his employee handbook provided by his trade organization. Sure enough, the section on employee leave was quite detailed and very workable. However, it contrasted with the vacation policy he had agreed to in his first employee’s offer letter. He worked things out with his employee, but if the policy had been in place before he sent that  offer letter, he would have avoided an uncomfortable conversation.