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Issue: 75 - Mar 16, 2015
Policies - Why Do We Need Them?
By: Katherine Dobbs, RVT, CVPM, PHR
interFace Veterinary HR System

Whether you call it a Policy Manual or an Employee Handbook, it is a “document” that consists of many pages, that likely sits on the shelf gathering dust rather than helping you manage your practice…which might be why you have not opened it or updated it in many years.  Well, it’s nearly time for Spring cleaning, so let’s start here!

It helps to know why this human resource tool is important, if only to motivate you to look it over and update, if needed, at least annually.  So let’s see what functions this manual (or handbook, but we’ll stick with manual for now) provides to your practice and the management of your human resources.

1.  Follow The Crowd:  Sure, every business needs a manual, so it is the “thing” to do, even if there are a few practices out there they do not have one.  However, one word of caution, if you do not plan to FOLLOW and ENFORCE your manual, than it’s best to NOT have one…because in an employment dispute, your manual will be regarded as a “contract” with an employee in the eyes of the law.  That may seem weird, since one of the functions of the manual is to announce, in no uncertain terms and several times in fact, that this is NOT a contract.  Don’t let that fool you…just keep moving forward.

2.  Legal-Smegal:  Yep, there is a whole bunch of mumbo-jumbo legal stuff that the employee needs to know about, including that “this is not a contract” statement, definition of “at will” employment,  explanation of employment rights such as equal opportunity employment, disability policy, anti-harassment policy, military leave, safety policies, and more.  These are the parts that the employee may only look at if the need arises, but when it does, you want to know they are in there, tied up nice and neat with a bow on top.  That is why you will want to have any and all manuals, policies, or addendums (policies that have not yet made it into the main book) approved by an employment law attorney in YOUR state…oh yes, the legal-smegal stuff includes a lot of federal AND state employment law information, so do your due diligence and get the review done right.

3.  Revolving Door Protection:  Then, there are all the policies that the employees DO want to know about, and they will keep coming to your office to ask you if you do not provide details in a manual.  This includes details about pay, holidays, vacation, PTO, bereavement leave, jury duty, and rules about any other time off.  Without a complete and current manual, you will undoubtedly have employees in and out of your office asking about employee benefits such as health insurance, uniforms, continuing education, and last but certainly not least, employee pet policies.  

4.  Putting Your Foot Down:  At their core, employment laws such as those mentioned above are written and enforced for the protection of the employee, NOT the employer.  The manual is one place where the practice can figuratively “put their foot down” and enforce some level of protection.  So this area will include policies regarding dependability (attendance and punctuality), drug and alcohol abuse, confidentiality, client records, and discipline and termination processes.  These policies are also designed to provide protection when the practice cannot be “watching the store”, kind of like eyes in the back of the head...things like privacy policies including lockers, email, voicemail, computer use, security systems, and cameras if in use.    

There are other really great things to include in a manual such as the smoking policy, the resignation/termination policy, internal investigations and searches, personnel records, solicitation (i.e., Girl Scout cookie time?), internal complaint procedures, staff meetings, dress code, the practice’s mission and/or vision, and a code of conduct.  If you are thinking this is already too much to include, think again…there are even more policies to consider, but this will get you started with the big stuff.

So what was the answer to “why do we need a policy manual?”  Mainly one word, PROTECTION.  No one said it would be easy, or quick, but it’s better than the alternative, which could be exposure and disaster.

While the Policy Manual or Employee Handbook is an important document to have in your practice for these reasons, it is actually quite limited when it comes to managing day-to-day-operations and the performance of each team member.  To do that, we need to zoom in on some other human resource documents, and the starting point is the most important one to discuss next month, the job description.