Your human resources manual is a reflection of the type of business you run. Your culture. Your environment.
It's a sales tool that you use to attract new employees and a management tool that you use to keep your best people happy. You may have strong political views about certain issues that any employer faces, but that's not important. What's important is that you show that you're aware of these issues and respect that they are important to others. And that you are proactively addressing them. Your manual should be your written statement that demonstrates your company's commitment to change, progress, and the welfare of its work force. And it needs to be updated frequently. When was the last time you updated your HR manual? Do it now. And start with these nine changes.
1. Health care.
If you have more than 100 full-time-equivalent employees as of January 1, 2015, you're required by law to provide affordable health insurance to them. And that number will go down to 50 on January 1, 2016. What's your health care policy? How much will you contribute? What assistance will you provide to your employees? What will you reimburse? Will you, like so many other small businesses, have health savings accounts and, if so, how much (if anything) will you contribute?
2. Minimum wage.
Right now the federal minimum wage is at $7.25, but that hasn't stopped many states, cities, and now corporations like Walmart from increasing theirs. The federal government pays its employees (and federal contractors are required to pay theirs) a minimum of $10.10 per hour. What is your company's minimum wage? Will there be an increase in the coming years?
3. Paid sick days.
In Philadelphia, where I'm from, the city now requires employers to provide five paid sick days a year. This is a national trend. Have you updated your sick-day policy? What constitutes a sick day? What documentation do you require? What is the procedure for calling in sick? And will you pay?
4. Pregnancy discrimination.
Being pregnant does not look easy. Pregnant women often have to miss work for doctors' appointments or just out of exhaustion. Others have their work responsibilities taken away or are passed over for other opportunities because of their condition. Pregnancy is a form of temporary disability, making some employees unable to fulfill some of their job functions for some of the time. Pregnancy discrimination has become a hot issue in the workplace and the EEOC has increased its scrutiny on employers. Your company needs a written policy reaffirming your commitment not to discriminate against someone because she's pregnant, along with what you're doing to accommodate someone in this condition.
5. LGBT rights and pay equality.
No employer should discriminate against an employee based on sexual orientation or gender. The lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, along with many female organizations, has become a very vocal advocate of equality in the workplace over the past few years, particularly as same-sex marriages have become legal in state after state and equal pay issues have gained more media attention. Besides a statement against discrimination, and in light of new laws, 2015 is the year to reassess the benefits you're offering to married employees, regardless of their arrangement, and your company's commitment to equal pay for all genders.
6. Marijuana and e-cigarettes.
Marijuana for recreational use is now legal in three states and the District of Columbia and many other states are adopting laws to enable use for medical purposes and limit punishments for the possession of very small amounts. E-cigarettes, which are legal in every state, are a $2 billion industry and growing. What are your policies? Should marijuana be treated more like alcohol than an illegal substance? Should e-cigarettes be allowed in the workplace, even if you have a smoke-free policy?
Imagine one of your truck drivers getting into an accident or harming someone in a company vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Hopefully you have a policy in place. But now imagine that same driver getting into an accident because he was texting while driving your vehicle. Do you have a policy for that?
Does your company have an internship program? That's good. Is it paid or unpaid? How many hours are required? What are the maximum hours? Is there a minimum age? A maximum age? By taking on an intern, are you making an implicit promise of a future job? What is the process for selecting interns? Can an intern be fired? What constitutes discrimination against or harassment of interns? From CBS to Conde Nast, big companies are learning that internships come with their own potential legal challenges. There's even a website devoted entirely to unpaid intern lawsuits, so be careful about this.
9. Email use.
Whatever you may feel about Hillary Clinton, you can at least thank her for raising awareness about an issue that affects many corporations: use of company email. Does everyone get an email account? Is there a written policy regarding the appropriate use of that account? Are signature lines required? Is personal email allowed for company business? What guidelines should be followed when using a company email account? What is your definition of unacceptable behavior?
HR manuals aren't a burden; they're an asset. They're a written communication that documents how you value your people. And a great HR manual must constantly be updated, and treated as a recruitment and retention tool instead of just an afterthought.