A common mistake small business owners make is to assume they are too small to be concerned with Human Resources issues. While it might not make sense to hire a full-time HR Director or make big investments in HR management information technology, it does make good business sense to make sure you have certain HR bases covered. In this space, I will discuss various HR-related topics that you can't afford to overlook. I'll start with one of my favorites:

Employee Handbooks

An Employee Handbook can be much more than a doorstop or paperweight, if written properly and used regularly. How?

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  • It can take the place of an on-site HR Director when simple benefits or leave policy questions arise.

  • It can also outline your company's discipline and grievance policy and answer related questions before they become a problem.

  • Additionally, it can clarify whether or not it's o.k. to check your Facebook page during the workday, for example.

Basically, having a well-written, up-to-date Employee Handbook will save you and your employees a lot of time and confusion.

A smart early step is to meet with the senior members of your company to discuss what's important to your company. What are your values? Do you have a mission statement? These things will help you ensure that your Employee Handbook looks and feels like your company and its culture. The last thing you want is an Employee Handbook filled with strict policies and images of employees in suits when in reality, your employees wear shorts and flip-flops and work from home when business allows.

Next, you'll want to dredge up whatever policies you have in place, even if they seem outdated. Some may have to be completely rewritten, but others may just need a few updates. Think about things that occur around the office. Have you noticed staff members spending a lot of time on the Internet during work hours, for example? Or sending personal text-messages on their company cell phone? Do you have a social media policy? What about time spent away from the office? Nothing ruffles employee morale more than the perception that some employees are not pulling their weight. What does your policy say about work hours, absences and working from home? Seven words to live by: Make a policy and stick to it.

There are many basic areas you'll want to include in your handbook, but one critical topic you don't want to leave out is Employment-at-will. This legal doctrine states that employers can fire non-contracted employees at any time for any reason, as long as those employers are not breaking the law. Including this in your Employee Handbook can help defend your company against a wrongful termination lawsuit.

Other topics to be included in an Employee Handbook will be covered in future articles. Sexual Harassment, Performance Management, Family Leave policies, Whistleblower protection, to name a few. These are not topics that should be addressed casually by non-professionals.

So where do you start? If no one on your staff has experience with HR issues and time to devote to creating and revising policies, consider working with an HR consultant, who has experience with local and federal employment laws and the necessary knowledge about what should and shouldn't be included in an Employee Handbook. This also will free you up to concentrate on your core business.

Alison Rivlin, principal of Rivlin HR Consulting, has over 15 years of experience in all aspects of Human Resources. Rivlin HR Consulting helps small businesses proactively address critical Human Resources issues to provide legal protection, to polish the company's professional image and to strengthen employee morale. Contact her at
Alison@RivlinHR.com or 908-327-3817 or see RivlinHR.com for more info.