Don’t Assume an Employee Knows the Rules at Work

Employers, Don’t Assume About Work Place Policies

In my many years of consulting with small companies I have seen a lot of mistakes be made by employers, but I have probably not seen as many as defense attorneys have seen. I was reading a post by attorney Daniel Schwartz entitled Things Employment Lawyers Don’t Want to Hear. Very interesting and I recommend you read it. But one thing he said struck me was that you don’t assume an employee knows the rules.  Don’t assume they know the various employment rules and work place policies specific to your business.

Actually I paraphrased what he said. What he actually said was:

How does the employee know the rule? Trust me. He knows.” I love this one. In defense of the employer, it’s probably true more often than not. However, you will never be able to get the employee to admit that he knew it if the rule isn’t in writing. And if you don’t have it in writing, you won’t be able to defend yourself if the employee “forgets” what he “knew.”

Yes, Employee Documentation is Important

This falls into the category of documentation. I tell clients and students that you have to live the mantra of “document, document, document.” I don’t do this because I love documentation, but I am realistic and experienced enough to know that without documentation rules and events get easily forgotten.

One of the easiest forms of documentation is your employee handbook. You want to make it complete but try not to get lost in the details. It is NOT necessary to point out every possible rules violation that could possibly occur, but you certainly want to cover the major issues. And of course you need to have the acknowledgement signed as that is really the first step in your defense that the employee was exposed to the rules. But honestly you need to go beyond that.

New Hire Orientation and Onboarding is Important First

You need to make sure that the employee was exposed to and learned the rule through a well conducted onboarding process. Handing the employee the handbook and other documents and expecting to just read them is not sufficient. Make sure they understand work place policies and rules from the beginning.  It helps to ask them questions about what they read. It helps to follow up with them after a few weeks to make sure the understanding is there. It helps to have their supervisor reinforcing the important thing. With this process you can avoid the mistake of assuming the employee knew. After all we all know what ASSUME means, correct?


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Mike Haberman

Michael (Mike) D. Haberman, SPHR is a consultant, speaker, writer of HR Observations, and co-founder of Omega HR Solutions, Inc. After over 30 years in HR he got tired of the past and focuses here on the Future of HR. Connect with Mike.


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