By the Book

employee handbookRegardless of what it is called — Employee Handbook, Employment Policy Manual, or Employee Policies and Procedures Guide — there is no legal requirement to create and share such a document with employees.  However, I maintain that as long as you have employees, it is a good idea to have an employee handbook or written employment policies of some sort for which every employee will be required to acknowledge receipt.

Why, you may ask?

  • They are a great way to communicate the culture of the organization.
  • Handbooks provide guidance and direction to both employees and managers.
  • They help to ensure that employees are treated in a fair and consistent manner.
  • They provide employees with information about working conditions and some of the policies that affect employment.
  • They describe many of the responsibilities of the employee and outline the programs designed to benefit employees.

That being said, I also want to offer a few words of caution about employee handbooks:

  • If you do decide to have an employee handbook there are certain topics that must be included in order for the document to be compliant with federal and State requirements.  Make sure you know what these are and include them.  The policies must be compliant in each State where you have employees working.
  • You must ensure that the handbook itself or the wording of the policies does not create a contractual relationship with the employee(s).  First, don’t make promises such as “We look forward to a long working relationship” or “You will be offered many opportunities for growth.”  Secondly, be clear that this employee handbook is not a contract and that nothing within it should be construed as creating a contract.  If you are in an at-will state, make sure you say that “all employment is at will” at least three times in the document.
  • You need to be consistent in your application of the policies but, by wording the policies appropriately you can allow yourself room for judgment calls and occasional exceptions.  Words like “generally” and “typically” work well.  Stating that you reserve the right to make exceptions, is very appropriate.

Should you decide to move ahead with a handbook there are a few different options.

  1. You can purchase a handbook template through any office supply store or on-line for anywhere between $29.95 to $149.00+.  Be aware that, as in all things, you get what you pay for.  Not only do these software packages vary in price but they also vary in complexity, customization level, and effectiveness.  When cacluating the cost, make sure  you add in the time you or someone else will spend customizing the handbook to meet the needs of your particular organization and the State(s) in which you have employees.
  2. You can hire a lawyer or a human resource consultant to assist you with designing, editing and implementing an employee handbook.  The benefits of this option outweigh any potential added expense because:
    1. From the get-go, you will be assured that your handbook is legally-compliant and that every policy has been scrutinized to ensure that it does not create a contract with the employee.
    2. You can feel confident that your handbook reflects your organizational culture and company-specific policies.
    3. You have the benefit of having the expert introduce the handbook to your employees, explain the reasoning behind key policies, and answer questions.

 You may be asking yourself – I already have an Employee Handbook, how often do I need to have it reviewed?

Employee Handbooks need to be viewed as living, breathing documents.  While an annual review may seem a bit much, the minimal expense and time spent will be well worth the peace of mind of knowing that your employee handbook is current and an appropriate reflection of your organization as it is today.

Let me give you an example.  In my role as a human resources advisor for a small non-profit, I reviewed a draft Employee Handbook from 2011.  While basically a solid document that met most of the federal and State requirements for an organization of this size, a few red flags were raised with some wording and concepts.  We were able to, in a meeting with the Executive Director that lasted less than 2 hours; update this document so that it more accurately reflects the intent and goals of the organization, ensuring it conveys the new organizational culture.  In addition, we ensured that the policies met current legal requirements and that we took into consideration technology changes that led to a policy statement on the use of social media in the workplace.  I’m sure you will agree, two hours is not a huge investment in time and money but well worth the investment.

If you would like to discuss further how C.H.A.R.T. Consulting can help you develop or edit your organization’s employee handbook or employment policies, contact Nadine Pfautz at 781-826-0433 or by email at

Posted in Compliance Assessment, Documentation, Employee Communication, Employee Handbook, Employee Relations, Human Resources, Policy and Procedure | Leave a comment

Applications Aren’t Just for College

Application for EmploymentCollege admissions counselors tell us that the application is an important piece of the picture when deciding who will be admitted to their college or university. However, did you know that an employment application is just as important when making a hiring decision? Let me explain. 

First of all, for employers with 20 or more employees Massachusetts law defines what must be included in the “personnel record” and an application is one of the documents on that list. The law goes further than that by defining what should be included in an application.  As an example – the application must have space where the applicant can list verifiable volunteer experience in addition to work experience.  The application must also include a statement that it is illegal to require a polygraph as part of the application process.  There are even requirements on what cannot be asked on an employment application. Now, Massachusetts regulations notwithstanding, why would you want every applicant to complete an application form?

  • A properly constructed application form gives you more verifiable information than a resume alone and it offers you an opportunity to gather information that goes beyond the resume.  For example, since you are asking for dates of employment in month and year you will be better able to see gaps in employment and answers the question, “why did you leave this position?”
  • Applications are typically completed in person and handwritten.  This gives you an opportunity to determine if the candidates can follow directions, are attuned to accuracy and neatness, and are detail-oriented.  You will also get a sense of the candidate’s preparedness by whether or not he/she brings a pen.
  • The application typically includes a place where the applicant verifies that he/she is eligible to work in the United States, the hours and days that he/she is available for work, and that he/she can perform the essential functions of the position.  This is important in ensuring that you are consistently gathering the same information from each candidate.
  • Since you will have the applicant sign that the information contained on the application is true and accurate, free of omissions, and that he/she understands that if you later learn that he/she lied on the application, you can immediately terminate his/her employment.  Some researchers say that more than 40% of applicants lie on their resumes!  For this reason alone, I recommend adding the application to the hiring process.

While there are numerous on-line and office supply stores that carry application forms, you need to be cautious when selecting the vendor.  It is critical that the off-the-shelf application forms be current, customizable and compliant for all of the states in which you have employees.  If you would like assistance with designing a customized application form or editing your current application for employment, feel free to contact me at 781-826-0433 or email me here.  We can also answer your questions about retention of applications and personnel records in general.

Posted in Human Resources, Onboarding, Recruiting and Hiring, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

It’s More Than Just Salary

employee benefitsStudy after study shows that employees place high value on benefits such as health and dental insurance, retirement plans and the like.  However, the studies also routinely show that these same employees don’t have an accurate picture of the full value of these benefits or how much their employer is paying out directly for their benefit.

In 2011 Steve Miller, CEBS wrote that 40 percent of U.S. employees “lack any knowledge of how much their health insurance costs” and, of the remaining 60 percent, “just 15 percent were able to provide a reasonable estimate.” These findings were based on a survey of 1,500 U.S. employees by research and consulting firm LIMRA. For instance, when asked how much their employer pays towards their health insurance premiums, employees underestimate the figure by thousands of dollars. Added to this are the smaller line items such as FICA, unemployment contributions, worker’s compensation insurance, and life insurance and disability plans which are often a part of the entire compensation and benefit package.

Without proper information and reporting, it is easy for employees to focus only on the things they do receive regular notice of – namely their take home pay – and forget all about the other less tangible benefits of employment.

Employers know that if they want to attract the best employees, they need to offer attractive salaries and benefits. Job offers routinely come with a list of benefits as part of the negotiation and sometimes they even quantify those benefits. However, all too many employers forget that this is important information that should be provided with some regularity after the employee is in place.

Whether you call it a compensation statement or a benefit statement, it is advisable to provide the statement to each employee as a routine part of their annual review or at the start of each fiscal year. This statement should be easy to read and should include a total package figure with a clear breakdown of each benefit category customized to the employee.  Such categories might include the employer’s contributions toward:

1)  Compensation: Social Security (FICA), State and federal income taxes, Worker’s Compensation, and Unemployment

2)  Health Benefits: Health, Dental, Vision, Other Wellness Plans

3)  Income Protection: Short/Long Term Disability, Life Insurance

4)  Retirement: Pension, 401K

5)  Other Benefits:  Bonuses, Education or Training Allowances, and so on

In addition, some employers elect to add in the employer’s cost for time off benefits such as paid holidays, vacation time, and personal time.

There are many resources available to help you develop an effective employee compensation/benefit statement.  We suggest your contact your employee benefits broker, payroll provider, or HR consultant for more information and assistance.  Or, you can simply do a web search for “Employee Benefits Statement” or “Employee Compensation Statement” for a list of resources for standard forms. To get you started C.H.A.R.T. Consulting is pleased to present this model statement adapted from a sample available from the Society for Human Resource Management:employee benefits list

Posted in Compensation Planning, Employee Benefits, Employee Retention, Employee Satisfaction, Human Resources | Leave a comment