Your dealership has changed! Times have changed! Technology has changed! We live in wickedly different times today than we did just 10 years ago. With all of the changes that we face over time in the powersports industry, collectively our employee manuals have not!
We live in a very litigious society, and one of the biggest sources of lawsuits are in the area of employment law. Dealerships commonly have to litigate or settle employment related issues for millions of dollars each year. You can mitigate this risk with something as simple as your dealership’s employee manual. If properly written, implemented and updated, your employee manual can be your best level of defense to risks that your dealership faces everyday.
Having an employee manual in your dealership will not protect you from getting sued, but it can help provide documentation of your dealership’s policies in the event that you are. Just having an employee manual won’t cover you completely, but it provides with a way to reduce your risk. In addition, having an employee manual is useless if it is not widely used to communicate your polices to your employees. And lastly, it has to be constantly updated to reflect the new world we do business in. Your employee manual should be a “living document” that changes as the legal environment of business does.
Some dealers do not use employee manuals because they tell me that they can be used against them in a negative and often expensive way. To these dealers I say you are being very shortsighted. The main reason that employee manuals become weapons for your employees is when you do not practice what you have put in writing! Some dealers say one thing in their manual, but do not uniformly apply the rules. When this happens, your manual can be used against you.
Since the topic of this blog is on updating your employee manual, I will offer you the following suggestions to make your employee manual current and relevant:
- Social media and data security and privacy: Almost all dealership employees use company computers, the internet and smartphones to conduct their daily tasks. Your handbook should make it clear that dealership employees have no right to privacy while working on these devices. When you have this policy, and you have an employee who spends many hours per day checking their status updates, you can coach and/or terminate based on this behavior. In reference to data security, make sure you update your policy to protect your dealership's intellectual property. Specifically I am concerned with safeguarding your sales and customer information. I have seen too many cases where the last that thing an employee does is steal this type of data before they move on to the dealership across town.
- Employment at Will: In most states today, the name of the game is employment-at-will. Most dealers do not understand this doctrine. Make sure that your manual states that all employees are employed at will, and they can be terminated for no or any reason, except if the reason is discriminatory. Also make sure that you have a statement in your manual that the manual itself is not an employment contract. Not doing so could negate their employment-at-will status.
- Title VII of the Civil Rights of 1964: This is the law that protects employees from discrimination in employment. Most of the employee manuals that I have reviewed contain such statements. Recent legislation has now expanded these protections to the LGBT community. The EEOC now interprets Title VII prohibition on sex discrimination to now include discrimination based on gender identify or sexual orientation. You may not agree with the new coverages, but your employee manual must be updated to protect these newly added groups.
- Terminations: This is the part of your employee manual that will come under the closest scrutiny in any type of litigation. If you describe a graduated warning system for write-ups prior to termination, for crying out loud follow that policy in all situations. Do not be vague in your language when writing your policies. The area of terminations should be very clear on your policy.
- Safe driving policies: Again, things have changed, and technology is changing the way people drive. Make sure you have a policy in your manual outlining your dealership’s policy on texting and cell phone usage while driving. There have been many cities that have banned these types of activities while driving. It is imperative that you communicate your policies to your employees to limit your dealership’s risk.
- Smoking policies: With the popularity of electronic cigarettes, employers are finding that such devices create different and unique issues. Specifically, complaints of employee health concerns, allergies and other sensitivities can be attributed to e-cigarettes. As a result, you should update your dealership’s smoking policies to include the use of electronic cigarettes.
These are just a few suggestions for updates to your dealership’s employee manual. It is time! Get out that old dusty manual, and rethink it’s purpose and relevancy in today’s times. Make it a high priority, and take the process serious. No matter what you think about employee manuals, they are your dealership’s best level of protection in employment-related issues. In my opinion, it's just good management!
Forrest Flinn, MBA, PHR, SMS has been in the motorcycle industry for nearly 20 years and has been a true student and leader serving in various capacities. He previously worked as an implementation consultant for Lightspeed and as a general manager with P&L responsibility for a large metro multi-line dealership. Currently Forrest is the managing partner and chief visionary for a consulting firm that specializes in outsourced accounting, human resources, social media strategy, dealership operations consulting and Lightspeed/EVO training.