Company Policies and Employee Manuals: Dust Collecting Binders or Necessary Safeguard?

Hiring employees for your Massachusetts business entails a significant amount of responsibility and legal liability.  What is your policy for addressing particular circumstances that will, without a doubt, occur during the operation of your business?  In other words, what is your paid and unpaid leave policy? What is your sexual harassment or violence in the workplace policy? What are the rules for performance and conduct of employees in the workplace? What is your procedure for termination of employees? These types of questions and significant concerns for your business can continue in perpetuity. 

Regrettably, most small businesses do have an oral (or unofficial) policy for addressing these types of circumstances, or have some semblance of how to deal with these problems as they arise.  However, this approach will not reduce the risk of an employee lawsuit for wrongful termination, unpaid wages (subject to treble damages and attorneys fees under the Massachusetts Wage Act), and other grounds for suing an employer for damages.  Most small businesses with 1 to 25 employees do not have company policies and an employee handbook. The reason is that these small businesses operate lean and mean, or have rapidly expanded to the point that they do not have the time and resources to structure the internal affairs of the organization. This oversight can be disastrous when an incident occurs or dispute arises, and a former employee hires an attorney to file a lawsuit against your business.  

At a minimum, all businesses should have a basic set of written company policies, including: At will employee policy; sexual harassment policy; anti-harassment policy; anti-discrimination policy; safety policy; Method and frequency of payment of wages; COBRA and mini-COBRA (Businesses with 20 or more employees); Breaks and facilities for nursing mothers; Maternity leave; Military leave, and

A Massachusetts small business should also have a basic employee manual that recites company policy, as well as states rules and procedures for: Orientation; Use of company technology and equipment (Cell phone, Internet, E-mail, and Computer); Compensation; Confidentiality and non-disclosure; Intellectual property; Drug use and testing; Non-smoking; Conduct; and Termination.  

Off the shelf or downloadable Internet forms containing template company policies and employee manuals are not enough to protect your business. These templates may not be in compliant with Massachusetts law, and are not tailored to your specific business needs. They may also be incomplete, poorly drafted, or written so as to protect the employee and NOT your business. Remember that if an employee files a lawsuit against you, your written policies will be strictly interpreted against you. And not having any policies at all can put the success and health of your business at risk. 

The Law Office of Stefan Cencarik, PLLC specializes in assisting small businesses and entrepreneurs in Boston and its surrounding areas, including Suffolk, Middlesex, and Essex counties.  To discuss whether your business is in compliance or protected against potential liability, please contact Stefan Cencarik, your business lawyer, at 617-669-9780.