While not legally required, an employee handbook provides employees with a roadmap to success in your business by clearly communicating your vision and their role in it, as well as the policies and procedures they need to live by at work.
Anyone who has ever played the kid’s game “Telephone” knows all too well how a verbal message can get scrambled as it gets passed from person to person. And that’s just one message, at one point in time.
Now, consider all the “messages” that together comprise your salon’s policies and procedures. From telephone etiquette to customer check-in and checkout procedures, from sanitation procedures to retail recommendations, from punctuality to sick time and vacation leave, these and many other policies and procedures govern how smoothly, consistently and, most important, successfully your salon runs.
So can you really afford to convey them in a way guaranteed to leave a group of 8-year-old girls laughing riotously?
Enter the argument for an employee handbook. There’s no law requiring that you have one, and, in fact, Susie Fields Carder, co-founder and vice president of industry relations for YourBeautyNetwork.com, estimates that as few as 5% of salons do. But there’s a lot to be said for simply having the power of the written word — starting with what it says about you and your salon.
Read Between the Lines
A handbook contains more than just the rules and regulations of your business — it provides a roadmap to a successful working relationship between you and your staff. Done well, it will communicate your mission and your customer service priorities as well as clearly define what you expect of employees and what they can expect of you.
“A handbook says to people, ‘Here’s who we are and what we’re committed to,’” Carder declares. “The purpose is to outline your values as a business and to make clear what team members have to do to work with you.”
A former salon owner, Carder cites her employee handbook as an example: “We had client satisfaction as one of our commitments, and explained that retailing is an important part of customer satisfaction because it allows customers to maintain the service at home.”
The mission statement sets the stage for the salon’s policies and procedures. According to attorney Ross Jones, an employment law specialist and partner at Merrill, Arnone and Jones (Santa Rosa, Calif.), opinions vary on how detailed employee handbooks should be. “I’ve seen them as short as 20 pages and as long as 100,” he says.
In his opinion, salon owners will be best served to keep it short and sweet. The longer the manual, the less likely employees will be to read it, much less remember the specifics.
From a legal perspective, Jones says that, at a minimum, your handbook should include formal procedures for employees to file a complaint, particularly concerning harassment.
No Need to Re-invent the Wheel
Intimidated at the thought of pulling together all of this information yourself There are a number of helpful resources offering everything from templates that provide a framework to sophisticated software programs that literally write it for you.
For industry-specific expertise, look first to your association. TSA members, for example, get free with their membership an employee handbook blueprint that was developed by a legal expert.
Melody Limbs-Lloyd, owner of Naturals Nails, An American Salon and Natural Nails, a Hand Foot and Body Spa in Greenfield, Wis., says she found the blueprint served as an excellent starting point for developing her manual Her advice: “Keep it simple Big, flowery things with lots of words tend to make it confusing.”
Subscription-based Your Beauty Network.com also provides members access to the handbook Carder developed and refined during her many years as a salon owner Members can download the handbook and copy it verbatim or customize it as desired.
There are also innumerable software programs — and more than a few websites — specifically designed to help small business owners write an employee handbook Knowledge point, for example, offers both.
“We take you from a blank page to a highly professional manual, “Turrini explains ‘The product offers 100 different policies — click on the ones you want, and it takes you through the steps of formulating a policy”
The software and web-enabled programs are similar but there are some fundamental differences. For example, personnelpolicies.com is a pay-for-use site where you can develop a single policy or an entire manual and download it once. With the Policies Now software, on the other hand, you can develop a basic manual and then grow and change it along with your business.
Regardless of which approach you choose, remember that your handbook is a dynamic document that must evolve with your business.
“Most states impose an affirmative need on the company to maintain a harassment- and discrimination-free workplace,” Jones explains.
Even though salon owners typically are highly accessible to employees and may not feel the need to outline a formal process, without one, a salon owner opens herself up to a lawsuit even if someone else did the harassing or discriminating.
“A common issue is a rogue employee who, say, harasses another employee,” he says. “The position of the company is that maybe it happened and maybe it didn’t, but that regardless, the company shouldn’t be held responsible. The legal question then becomes what were the policies in place to prevent it, and what system was in place to address it if it occurs.”
He also advises that salon owners assert their ownership of client information. “Your customer list was developed through years of hard work and effort on your part,” he says. “That’s the type of information that, as an employer, you want to make sure employees know you consider a trade secret.”
You’ll also want to make a statement of “at-will employment”—which basically states that you or the employee can terminate her employment without notice or cause — if it’s legal in your state, adds Jan Turrini, product manager for Knowledgepoint, a Petaluma, Calif. - based publisher of human resource management software and the creator of HRTools.com, a virtual human resources department on the web.
From an owner’s perspective, Nancy Lawrence of Savoir-Faire in Auburn, Calif., stresses making clear your stance on everyday issues such as dress code, phone usage, retail products, and gift certificates. “We added a phone usage clause because we only have two lines and want to avoid clients getting a busy signal,” Lawrence says by way of example. “So we clearly state that they have to use a cell phone or the pay phone outside.”
You’ll also want to communicate your policies on continuing education — covering everything from where they’ll get it (in salon or through a local distributor), to how often they must attend, to who will pay for it. For example, Kerry Webber-Marmanidis, owner of VSS in Norwood, Mass., mandates that new employees must attend weekly classes in the salon, while all employees must attend monthly. (Be aware that these guidelines are for employee setup — not booth renters, who are not subject to an owner’s policies and procedures.)
In writing your policies, strive for clarity as well as conciseness. Lawrence remembers that in her first employee handbook she simply stated for a dress code that staff should “dress professionally”
“I quickly found that my idea of professionalism and theirs differed,” she says wryly. Now, her handbook defines the minimum dress code as “business casual,” and further specifies an all- black wardrobe for fall and winter.
“My purpose is to set forth clearly defined working conditions,” she says. “If everyone knows what’s expected, it prevents misunderstandings.”
A handbook also comes in handy to defuse tense situations. “Blame-filled conversations disappear,” Carder says. “You can just point to the handbook and say, ‘Sorry, it’s against our policy.’”
Cover-to-Cover: What Goes Inside
Ready to develop an employee handbook now, but not sure where to start? Below, we’ve broken out the different sections found in a typical employee handbook. Remember, have your manual reviewed for accuracy by an attorney.
* Visionary Statement and Big- Picture Policies
Points to cover: Provide an overview of the company, including a mission statement, each individual’s role in the salon’s — and their own—success, and a discussion of personal ethics. This is also the section where you’ll want to make a statement of at-will employment and make clear that the manual should in no way be construed as an employment contract. (See, you already need a lawyer!)
* Hiring and Orientation Policies Points to coven In addition to making an equal employment opportunity statement, here’s where you’ll want to provide detailed job descriptions as well as an overview of your training program, continuing education requirements, and any other hiring policies and procedures.
* Wage and Hour Policies
Points to cover: Discuss pay periods, work schedules, absenteeism and punctuality, business expenses, and retail commissions.
* General Policies
Points to cover: Everything that governs the day-to-day work. Talk about client check-in and checkout procedures, dress code, sanitation and disinfection practices, client complaint resolution, telephone use, off-duty use of the salon, moonlighting, etc This is also the place to set out your policy on providing a workplace free of harassment and discrimination and to present the process by which employees formally lodge a complaint. A lawyer is the best source for the correct language.
Points to cover: Employees will want to know about sick and vacation leave, health insurance, flexible scheduling, continuing education assistance, pregnancy leave, worker’s compensation and unemployment insurances, and any other perks that come with the job.
* Safety Policies
Points to cover: In addition to your general safety policy, discuss your smoking policy and clearly state a policy against violence toward clients and other employees. Additionally, this is the section to discuss your policy on children in the salon, and how to respond to employee and client injuries.
* Trade Secrets
Points to cover: State your stance on employee competition and conflicts (i.e., working from home or in a competing salon) as well as your policy on the confidentiality and non-disclosure of client lists. Include a separate statement on non-solicitation of clients and non-recruitment of fellow employees.
* Customer Relations
Points to cover: Outline your expectations regarding product and service knowledge, client relations, and gratuities and gifts.
* Acknowledgement of Receipt and Review
Points to cover: Include a separate page that asks employees to acknowledge that they have received a copy of the manual and that they accept responsibility for familiarizing themselves with the policies and procedures it lays out.
Draft First, Lawyer Second
Webber-Marmanidis laughs when she thinks of her first handbook. “I started with a small handbook that covered the basics, like punctuality and dress code,” she explains. As the salon grew, she quickly found it more effective to put her policies and procedures down on paper. She acknowledges that keeping it up takes time, but she finds it well worth the effort. “It gives use more uniformity and made the business run more efficiently,” she says Limbs-Lloyd updates her handbook annually, but does addendums in the form of memos as new issues come up.
Regardless of what resources you use to compile your manual, it’s important to cover all your bases.
“A poorly written handbook or one that’s distributed but not implemented can do more harm than good,” Jones observes. “The problem I’ve seen over and over is that small businesses in particular will use some type of canned handbook they get from a friend or a software program without having it reviewed by an attorney [who understands their business].”
Some policies may not apply to your situation or, worse, maybe against the law. Blatant violation of wage laws and invasions of privacy concerning drug and alcohol testing are just two ways an employee handbook can invite trouble, Jones says. “There are some statements made in employee handbooks that are worse than having no written policies at all,” he asserts.
A legal review won’t protect you from lawsuits — just ask Carder, who says she was sued many times as a salon owner — but it will ensure that your handbook doesn’t provide evidence against you.
The most time- and cost-effective approach, says Jones, is to develop your employee handbook using a template that you then modify for your particular business needs. Then make an appointment with an attorney who specializes in labour law and ask her to review it.
“If a salon owner comes with a draft, she can expect an attorney to review to ensure policies are accurately stated and in compliance with applicable federal and state laws,” he explains.
Don’t bother with any of this, says Jones, unless the handbook will contain words everyone will have to live by. “Unless you follow through on implementing the handbook, you shouldn’t have one,” he cautions. “There’s nothing more dangerous than a handbook sitting on a shelf and gathering dust. Because the only time it’s looked at is when an employee feels wronged and is looking for something to back her up.”
Nor will it help you, the owner, when you’re the wronged party. “If you want to use policies set out in your handbook against a problem employee but you haven’t applied the policy across the board, you’re going to have problems,” Jones says.
Nor should that be your goal. Instead, an employee handbook is best viewed as a communication tool. As such, Turrini says, it can become one of your most valuable employee recruiting and retention tools. “A handbook demonstrates your culture and style, and conveys to employees that they’re an integral part of your business.