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When employees need a hand(book)

Dear Mary, I’m having a hard time with my employees. One of them is going through a divorce and can’t seem to focus on work, and the other one is constantly late and often calls in sick. They have both been with me a long time and I don’t want to fire them, especially given the current economic climate. I’m not interested in their personal issues, but my business is suffering. What’s the best way to handle this?

From a legal standpoint, the best thing you can do to get your employees on track is to set clear standards. It sounds like you either don’t have an employee handbook, or that you aren’t enforcing its terms. Make clear rules, make sure your employees understand the rules and their consequences, and enforce the rules uniformly.

There are several online resources that can help you put together an employee handbook. In general, the handbook should explain what your expectations are for your employees. It should also clarify the employer’s legal obligations and your employees’ legal rights.

You will need to discuss how and when the employee will be compensated and what deductions the company will take. This is a good time to also explain your company’s policy on benefits, overtime pay, bonuses, timecards and breaks. Do not assume that your employee will begin the job understanding the finer points of worker’s compensation and wage and hour laws.

If you are concerned about your employee’s tardiness, now is the time to address punctuality, attendance, and the consequences of missing work. It’s not enough to just say that your employee shouldn’t be late — you must enforce your policies and document incidents that violate the employee handbook. Meet with your employees on a regular basis to discuss and review their performance, attendance and punctuality.

Set clear standards for your employees with regard to their obligations. For example and depending on your specific business, you may want to require that your employees keep client/customer information confidential.

You also need to cover discrimination laws and how both you and your employees are expected to comply with them. There are many other areas you should cover, including employee records, probation, termination, safety and security of the workplace, appropriate computer and software use, vacation policies and much more.

You may want to start with a template that complies with California and federal law and go from there, or you may want to have an attorney review your handbook before you present it to employees.

Sometimes it’s hard to enforce rules with an employee who is suffering serious personal challenges. Setting standards is half the battle; the other half is helping your employee to leave their personal issues outside of the workplace. A business owner I know tells her employees to leave their problems in their car when they show up for work. When they leave the office at the end of the day, their problems will be waiting for them.

Mary Luros is a business law attorney with Hudson & Luros, LLP, in Napa, and can be reached at or 418-5118. The information provided here is not intended as legal advice, nor does it form an attorney-client relationship with the author. The author makes no representations as to the reliability or accuracy of the above information. In a perfect world we wouldn’t need disclaimers — or attorneys.

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