Human Resources mentor Robert Hoffman responds to the following question from an user:
I was hired as the controller of a small company that now has 25 employees. I was also given the role of HR manager. There is currently nothing in place in the way of an employee manual stating policies, vacation days, etc. Where can I go to receive software, and what publications and/or books are there that will help me with other HR-related issues?

Robert Hoffman's response:
The dilemma of not having time to write or research policies is a concern for most small and start-up businesses. There are many resources on the Internet for the information you seek. The Society for Human Resource Management is a good place to start. It offers a list of links at its Web site that can help you locate information on everything from benefits to safety. We also offer a comprehensive listing of links to human resource reference material on our company's HR Web site.

However, I do not recommend off-the-shelf policies and manuals. In my opinion, it is critical that your company's policies be customized to reflect your industry and geographic location. Employment laws vary by state of operation, and certain industries -- such as transportation and health care -- have special considerations. But perhaps the most critical factor in policy development is your company's culture.

Many start-ups advocate a freewheeling, laid-back approach that is conducive to creativity and innovation. Conversely, businesses with conglomerate aspirations may feel that structure and process are necessary evils for long-term success. One policy does not fit all!

I urge you to factor in your company's unique start-up status when considering any new policies. Some entrepreneurs may wonder how they can issue new policies without jeopardizing the existing culture of the organization. I believe it is possible if you keep a few things in mind.

  • Seek ways to minimize the negative effects. One technique is to issue a set of policies at once. The bundling approach avoids sensationalizing specific issues while allowing the company to get the message across.
  • Give appropriate reasons for implementation. For example, if your employees own stock in the company, they will likely understand and appreciate your setting up certain standards and protections. Pre-IPO start-ups can explain to employees that they must be especially sensitive to the negative publicity and resulting impact in the investment community that could result from a policy oversight.>
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. In start-ups, as in many other organizations, how you send the message is as important as the message itself. Keep in mind that a policy is just another form of helping your employees understand your perspective.

Regardless of your corporate culture, certain policies should be established within all companies so as to limit liability. I recommend that these policies include:

  • Equal employment
  • Antidiscrimination and harassment
  • Employment at will

You should make it clear to all employees that ethical behavior, equal opportunity, and respect for other employees are key to the employment relationship. Similarly, you should state that either party can end employment at any time and that no policy constitutes a contractual obligation to employees on the part of the company. Lastly, it should be clear that the company reserves the right to change any policy at any time.

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