On the Same Page
Well-run shops tend to have standard operating procedures (SOPs) in place for everything from oil changes to wheel alignments to transmission replacements.
The human resources side of the business shouldn’t be treated any differently. You don’t want to put employees to work without first ensuring they have a clear understanding of your shop’s policies, standards and expectations.
“Employees are the most important assets in business. To keep them happy, engaged and productive, and to maximize the large investment in your workforce, you’ve got to have standard procedures around human resources,” says Kathryn Carlson, a senior professional in human resources and director of human resources products for automotive consulting firm KPA.
The most important place to start, she says, is development of an employee handbook. Employee handbooks are the most basic, foundational human resources tool that employees need to do their jobs, know what is required of them each day, and understand workplace standards.
And with a little time and commitment, any shop operator can create one.
A Professional Shop
Employee handbooks serve as how-to guides regarding expectations surrounding the employment relationship, Carlson says. They set the tone for business policies, and provide employees with general information on what they can expect from you—and what you can expect from them.
Employee handbooks set the framework for a consistently high quality, professional organization, Carlson says. It will make your shop more efficient if the policies it outlines are engrained within your business culture.
In the long-term, Carlson says the proactive communication ensures every staff member is on the same page, which will minimize miscommunication, misapplication of rules and inefficiencies throughout the workday. That gives employees better perceptions of their employer because they know the owner cares about their well-being, and that they’re genuinely trying to create a safe and productive work environment.
It will make you a better organizational leader, too, because you’ll eliminate wasted time fielding basic questions from employees.
“If you have a structured, repeatable process, you become so much more efficient,” Carlson says. “And you’ll obtain a happier, more productive and more engaged staff of employees” with better working relationships.
What It Entails
A good employee handbook is a 35- to 50-page document that provides a thorough overview of your business. Carlson recommends breaking it up into several categories to clearly explain every policy related to human resources at your business. She outlines the key areas that every shop should cover—information that should be updated annually to remain current with new company, state and federal workplace policies and regulations.
#1) Introduction. Explain the nature of employment. Outline how your business complies with federal employment laws, such as equal employment opportunity and the Americans with Disabilities Act. In addition, detail your shop’s anti-harassment policies.
#2) Benefits. Highlight all of the employment benefits that employees will receive working at your company. That includes vacation, sick leave, holidays, health insurance, leaves of absence, bereavement time, jury duty, military leave, employee purchases, and worker’s compensation.
#3) Communications standards. Explain your shop’s grievance policy, problem-solving procedures, and process for accepting employee suggestions.
#4) Employee pay. Explain all information related to employee pay, including use of a commission or flat-rate pay plan, overtime policy, paycheck frequency, paycheck distribution dates, and the process used to distribute paychecks (direct deposit or physical check).
#5) Introductory period. Explain whether your company has implemented an introductory or probationary period for new employees. If so, detail the length of the introductory period, what that time is meant for, and how that impacts the employee’s work status.
#6) Categories of employment. Explain the key differences between full-time, part-time and temporary employees, such as the number of hours they are expected to work weekly, time-keeping processes, and who qualifies for various benefits.
#7) Basic business information. Highlight all general information about your business, such as hours of operation, work shift scheduling processes, and customer vehicle policy.
#8) Employee breaks. Explain all of the break times and meal periods that employees are allotted each day. Detail the length of each break, and whether it’s paid or unpaid.
#9) Employee work expectations. Explain all work standard policies in place for each employee. Highlight expectations for things like absences, tardiness, professional appearance, dress code and uniforms, smoking, work hours, phone usage (personal cell or business), parking, cleanliness, organization and use of the shop before or after hours.
#10) Workplace violence. Explain your policy for violence in the workplace, and exactly what is considered to be violent behavior. Detail enforcement and disciplinary process when the policy is violated.
#11) Background checks. Outline your policy for conducting employee background checks, including the specific types of background checks performed and what the information will be used for.
#12) Technology resources. Explain your policies for appropriate use of the company’s telephone, voicemail systems, computer systems, servers, printers, software, data storage, email, Internet, or photocopiers.
#13) Equipment usage. Highlight the various types of equipment that employees will be using, and detail expectations for proper care, maintenance, operating instructions, and safety standards.
#14) Training. Explain all training that is a condition of employment. In addition, detail whether costs of training are provided by the company, if training time is paid or unpaid, and what your travel reimbursement policy is.
#15) Drug and alcohol policy. Outline your shop’s policies, enforcement and disciplinary process for the use, possession or distribution of illegal drugs, alcohol or controlled substances. In addition, explain any circumstances when you may require a drug and alcohol screening.
#16) Corrective action. All of the standards, expectations and guidelines outlined above must be enforced in order to hold all employees accountable. Detail your process for disciplinary action, and clearly explain which types of violations will result in certain types of corrective action, such as verbal warnings, written warnings, counseling, suspension or termination.
#17) Employee acknowledgement form. Have all employees sign a form acknowledging that they’ve read and understand every policy outlined in the employee manual.
Handbook Orientation and Training
Carlson says every shop should establish some level of training that covers items outlined in the employee handbook. At minimum, she suggests developing a training program for discrimination and harassment policies. There are several online resources available to help shop owners deliver that information.
Chris Robbins, owner of Plymouth VIP Auto Center in Plymouth, Minn., for example, created a three-page checklist based on his handbook that managers work through with every new employee. They hold one-on-one employee meetings to discuss the checklist during the first two weeks of employment.
Robbins says he has both management and employees sign the checklist to verify that everyone understands their requirements. He has employees sign a new checklist whenever changes occur since he updates the handbook four times a year. The information is permanently stored in the employee’s personnel file.
Protect Your Business
Carlson says the presence of an employee handbook can reduce litigation concerns for things like wrongful termination, as long as the document is clearly written and communicated—and consistently enforced.
“The biggest problem that shops have without an employee handbook is inconsistent application and enforcement of rules,” Carlson says. “And that’s the foundation for litigation. You open yourself up to problems if you’re not consistent with your practices.”
But if you have written, documented processes in place signed by the employee for disciplinary action, warnings, and write-ups, you’re able to create a solid defense against unwarranted employment claims.
“If you have a written standard that someone fails to adhere to, it becomes an objective style of feedback rather than subjective when you conduct performance reviews or disciplinary action,” Carlson says. “You can offer clear information as to what the employee did incorrectly, which reduces the appearance of discrimination or favoritism.”