Just the other night, I was at a networking event with a number of brilliant, creative owners and founders of tech startups. When I asked them why they chose a career in technology (designing apps, creating new software products, or taking high-tech music platforms to astounding heights), many told me that they were drawn into the technology field because they liked solving puzzles. Using a “think-outside-the-box” mentality, and looking at problems from different angles, many high tech start-up founders and CEO’s have found the answers to technological questions and riddles, which would baffle less tech savvy folks.
And so, for CEO’s, CTO’s and Founders of technology-based companies in the Tech Startup world, I pose a riddle – the most ancient of perplexing verbal puzzles – for you to answer:
Why Did The Tech Startup Company Have An Employee Handbook?
Give up? I’ll give you a hint: think about what makes a riddle so tough to solve. Sometimes, it’s because the riddle misdirects the person hearing it; steers them or diverts them away from a material word or phrase (example: if a plane crashes on the Canadian-U.S Border exactly between a Canadian province and a U.S. State,where do they bury the survivors?) Here, the quizzed person is misdirected into thinking about borders, states’ rights vs. national territories, etc. The answer of course, is simple: nowhere (neither Canada nor the U.S.). Why? Because we don’t bury survivors (see the riddle again).
Here’s another hint to my above posed riddle about the employee handbook: some riddles are perplexing, because the answers are so obviously simple! The person hearing the riddle is looking for a deeper meaning – a clever metaphor or unexpected outcome, when the real answer is incredibly straightforward and obvious. Example: Why did the chicken cross the road? Answer: To get to the other side. [Why else would one cross a road?]
As to my riddle posed — why did the tech startup company have an employee handbook: the answer is simple and obvious: for the same reasons that any other company in any field would have one. Mainly, to more clearly communicate to employees how the company operates, and to have sound guidelines and answers to frequently asked questions (for present and future employees). In addition, tech companies further need employee handbooks, for the same prevention / protection from possible legal problems that other companies face, when there is a lack of employees’ knowledge about federal, state and (sometimes), city laws. Lastly, an employee handbook helps to establish proper protocols for vacation time, sick leave, expectations of conduct, and essentially provides a basis for smooth flowing operations at the workplace.
But wait a minute, you might ask. What if my tech company only has five or ten employees? What if we’re like a family? Suppose we don’t subscribe to doing business the old-fashioned way? Do we need an employee handbook for our company too?
In response to the above question (and to support my contention that the answer to my “tech company employee handbook riddle” is accurate), here are some of the main reasons for ANY organization with employees to have an employee handbook (be it a large international bank, or a small high-tech company that creates mobile apps, software or high-tech marketing programs):
What are Employee Handbooks?
An employee handbook is a compilation of the policies, procedures, working conditions, and expectations that guide employee actions in the workplace. Employee handbooks generally also include information about the company, employee compensation and benefits, anti-discrimination / anti-harassment policies, and avenues to address such complaints, along with additional terms and conditions of employment.
What are the benefits of having an employee handbook?
- Prevention and protection from legal liabilities:
By setting forth acceptable and unacceptable conduct, outlining the proper channels for employee complaints about discrimination or harassment, and letting employees know their legal rights and concurring obligations to assert such rights (ex: how to request FMLA leave or disability-related accommodations), employee handbooks can help to pre-emptively protect companies against an employee’s claims in court, on matters ranging from sexual harassment to employee mistreatment.
- Tangible guidelines: Clear, unambiguous statements of acceptable and expected behavior from both employees and employers, along with procedures located all in one book, provide a common source for everyone within a business to refer to. (You’re all “on the same page,” so to speak, about the workplace’s smooth operation).
- Minimize employee and employer misunderstandings:
The Employee Handbook is an important communication tool between a business and its employees. Specifications on workplace expectations and directives allow both employers and employees to avoid potential disputes over what is expected of each party.
- Provide a comprehensive answer to frequently asked questions to save time and money: An employee handbook will answer routine questions from employees, thus saving time and money of having to answer each employee’s common inquiries.
- Create an overall better working environment: An employee handbook stating a small business’s guidelines on employee benefits, bonus programs, attendance rules and many other points that project a company’s culture will affect the overall office environment. A company managed with unbiased and reliable rules will foster greater employee satisfaction, leading to an increase in efficiency and productivity.
One tip I recommend is to make sure that you have a professional (well versed in employment law, labor law and contract law issues) draft your employee handbook. At the very least, have a professional review and revise any template you’ve taken a stab at on your own, to make sure it is in accordance with the governing laws, and that it fits your company’s size, location, etc. I believe businesses should be wary about borrowing another company’s employee handbook, recycling an outdated one, or downloading a boiler-plate template handbook from an online company. The reason? Such documents may not have up-to-date policies from more recent laws (ex: have a company in New York City? If so, a year 2012 employee handbook’s sick leave policies might run contrary to the recent New York City’s Earned Sick Time Act / Paid Sick Leave Law). Moreover, while all companies can benefit from employee handbooks, they should be tailored, based upon the size of your company and related factors. Thus, it is important to have an attorney make sure that you have an employee handbook – one which does not unwillingly creating an employment contract, and which protects your company.
I hope the above article on employee handbooks drove home just why it is so crucial for all businesses with employees to have a well-drafted employee handbook. Whether you’re a fifty-year old, 500 person accounting firm, or a five month old, 5 person app-developer or high-tech startup, the clarity, communication, and protections provided by a well-drafted employee handbook are a beneficial resource. Having solved what will no doubt go down in history as one of the great riddles of the 21st century, perhaps now we can all go about our business.
By Eric Sarver, Esq.
Eric Sarver, Esq. is an attorney with seventeen years of experience practicing law — the past fourteen of which as the sole proprietor / principal at The Sarver Law Firm, PLLC, Mr. Sarver’s practice areas include: labor & employment law, business law and contracts, for small businesses, social entrepreneurs and non-profits. He is admitted to practice law in the State of New York, and in the federal courts, in the Eastern and Southern Districts of New York. For questions in New York State involving a specific contract, an employment law-related matter or other legal issues that your business is dealing with, feel free to contact Eric M. Sarver, Esq. at: Tel: 917-930-8684; E-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org; Web: www.sarver-law.com
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