By: Jenn S.
When you first went to work for your employer, it is likely that you received an employee handbook, often referred to as an employee manual or a policy and procedure manual. If you did what you were supposed to do, you read it and then signed a document stating that you read and fully understood the rules and policies stated within. Though such “rule books” often seem like mindless paperwork you can easily plow through during orientation and then forget, they are much, much more than that. Instead of thinking of the employee handbook as all of the things that you can’t do or rules that restrict you, also think of it as what your employer has to so do for you.
Key Employee Policies: So what are the most important policies and procedures to focus on? Which policies are most often utilized by employers to get rid of employees? Which policies should you make yourself highly aware of in order to keep your job? Frankly, you should carefully read the entire manual from cover to cover and then keep it somewhere where you can easily refer to it in the future. However, if you are not big into reading or your employer’s manual happens to fill numerous binders, try to at least familiarize yourself with the following key policies:
Standards of Conduct: Kind of a no-brainer, but you would be surprised how many people are unaware of the multitude of acts or behaviors that can land you on your employer’s hit list. Most policies regarding standards of conduct give a long laundry list of offenses, from poor performance on the job to violence or drugs in the workplace. The standards of conduct are a good place to start to determine exactly what is unacceptable in your workplace so that you can avoid crossing the line right from the start.
Anti-Harassment / Discrimination Policy: This policy is important for several reasons. One, you should know how to use it in case you are a victim of discrimination or harassment or you witness it happening to a coworker. More importantly, you should determine exactly what your employer is promising to do for you in the event that you make a complaint of discrimination or harassment and then hold the employer to it. If the employer fails to follow its policies, you may very well have a valid legal claim. Finally, you should make yourself aware of exactly what constitutes discriminatory or harassing acts so that you can avoid violating the policy yourself or having a complaint filed against you.
Disciplinary Policy / Progressive Discipline Policy: Again, here is a policy that you not only need to know but must hold your employer accountable to following, should you be targeted for disciplinary action. Determine what the progressive “steps” are for each level of discipline and what acts or behaviors fall under each step. For example, repetitive violations of the attendance policy may first warrant a verbal warning, then a written warning, and then ultimately termination. However, a serious offense, such as insubordination or theft may warrant immediate dismissal. Know your rights under this policy and make sure that your employer is applying it fairly and consistently amongst all workers. Inconsistent application of this policy could be grounds for legal action.
Medical Leave and Other Kinds of Leave: At the beginning of your employment, you should make yourself aware of how your employer handles requests for time off. Most employers are bound by laws that require them to provide you time off for certain medical conditions or the medical conditions of particular family members but beyond such required leave, you should also know how any paid vacation or sick leave is earned and how to request such time off. A handbook will usually also cover other types of leaves such as jury duty or witness leave, bereavement leave, and military leave, amongst many. Educate yourself up front on the leave issue so that you know what you can expect from your employer should the need for a leave arise.
Fraternization & Employee Dating Policy: As I have made very clear in previous articles, dating in the workplace is never a good idea, but some employers actually have policies against it. The most dangerous dating relationship (and usually the one that will violate a no fraternization policy) is one between a supervisor and a subordinate. Such a situation not only creates tension and drama in the workplace but it also creates the possibility of legal liability for the employer and the individual supervisor, should the subordinate decide to file a harassment complaint. But even a relationship between coworkers can violate an employer’s policy so be mindful of the rules and if you happen to find love at work, do your best to keep it under wraps and outside of the workplace.
Non-Solicitation / Distribution Policy: Know your employer’s policy regarding solicitation. Most employers do not allow any sort of solicitation or distribution of literature in the workplace, on work time. Some employers might allow it in the break room, when you are off of company time but generally speaking, it is probably best to leave the Mary Kay and Pampered Chef brochures at home or in the car. If you want to give something to your coworkers, do it after work, off the premises.
Confidential Information Policy: Know what you can and cannot talk about, both inside and outside the workplace. Your job may require that you handle sensitive, confidential information and in such cases, employers often have employees sign a separate confidentiality agreement. But for those in less sensitive positions, you might still run afoul of a confidential information policy, especially if the policy includes the discussion of salary information (who doesn’t like to complain to coworkers about their pay?) or other internal information that should not be shared outside the workplace. This is a policy to know and strictly follow, as violations of it often lead directly to termination.
By educating yourself about your employer’s policies and procedures, you will be much more savvy about what your employer expects from you, as well as what you can expect from your employer.