What could an employee handbook do for your farm?

Employers who look to employee handbooks as policy manuals meant to keep them out of trouble are missing other opportunities.

Producers often express an interest in developing employee handbooks for their farms to add some protection to their human resource management. The thought is that if the policies are in writing, employees can’t say “I didn’t know” or “you didn’t tell me that”, thus giving some back-up if the employer needs to let someone go.

Employee handbooks should not be simply about keeping employers out of trouble. In fact, handbooks may actually create problems if employers are not prepared to follow through on what they put in their handbook.

Using an employee handbook is an excellent opportunity to improve communication. Employers can share their farm’s vision, history and policies with their employees. It is also a means to share how the farm provides orientation and training for employees, employee pay and benefit information, and leave of absence information.

Farmers should be careful in how they include sections on employee discipline and job performance within their farm’s employee handbook. Michigan is an “At Will” employment state, and many individuals would like to maintain that status. Wording on discipline that shows a progressive disciplinary action, including “if/then” statements, should be avoided unless the employer is truly committed to do this with every employee. Indeed, anything written in the employee handbook should pass the test “Am I going to follow through on this with each and every employee, every time?”

With those precautions in mind, an employee handbook is still a great opportunity to help employees understand the business and should help increase their opportunity to succeed on the farm. Putting together a handbook also helps owners and managers develop consistency in how they plan to treat employees. It forces you to think through how you want your business to function.

Michigan State University Extension recently developed an Employee Handbook Template for use by Michigan farms. The template is designed to help an employer begin the process of developing a handbook for their farm. The handbook template uses features of Word to allow producers to not only insert their farm name throughout the document, but also to update the table of contents once the template is modified for their particular farm. Template content contains example verbiage by section, and also directs producers to additional resources important to labor management.

The template is for education purposes only, and producers should have their draft Employee Handbook reviewed by their farm’s attorney. In addition, employers of migrant or seasonal workers must comply with additional duties and responsibilities under the Migrant and Seasonal Worker Protection Act.

Other resources available on the MSU Farm Information Resource Management website include publications on “Labor Laws and Michigan Agriculture”, and an “Agricultural Employer Checklist”. There are also links to labor forms and reporting sites.

Did you find this article useful?