Every pizzeria operator should maintain written employment policies. Such policies, outlined in your pizzeria employee handbook, should explain the expectations and standards of conduct, as well as any benefits provided to workers. They ensure compliance with state and federal laws regarding wage and hour issues, sexual harassment, equal employment opportunity, and other important topics. They also outline expected behavior with regard to use of the internet, smartphones, email and social media in the workplace.
There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all handbook. Rather, handbook policies should be customized and tailored to your particular operation and culture. The size of your workforce is important as well, as certain laws apply only to companies with a certain number of workers.
Let’s review some basics of what a pizzeria employee handbook should contain. I recommend it be divided into several main sections and that specific policies further describing those sections fall below them. You can begin with sections containing introductory language and any welcome message and include an acknowledgement form for employees to sign.
A handbook is essentially useless if it is not effectively distributed and communicated to employees and written in plain language that is easily understood. When an employer provides workers with an employee handbook, it is important to have an employee sign an acknowledgement form that indicates the employee has received, read and understood the policies contained within. An attorney should properly draft this acknowledgement form, as well as a disclaimer that the handbook does not give rise to a contractual relationship, to minimize liability in this area. If any employees are not fluent in English, consider having an employee handbook drafted in another language so that employees cannot later claim they did not understand what was written.
Your pizzeria employee handbook should outline basic employment provisions, such as the employee-at-will relationship; a statement relating to equal employment opportunity for all; compliance with immigration laws; any fraternization or nepotism rules; and disability accommodation. Federal law, for example, requires that employers with 15 or more workers not discriminate against any worker based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, physical disability, mental disability, pregnancy, veteran status or genetic information. Individual states, however, may offer more protection. It is important for employers to know and comply with their specific state laws.
Disability accommodation is important as well. While the Americans With Disabilities Act applies to employers with 15 or more workers, many states have similar laws that offer protection in workplaces with as few as six workers. The policy should state that any employee who has a physical or mental impairment that impacts his/her ability to work effectively should communicate that issue to a designated representative so that a dialogue can take place about any changes that might be needed. This is a complex area of the law, and supervisors and managers need education and training about what constitutes a request for a reasonable accommodation. The Americans With Disabilities Act Amendments Act greatly expanded the rights of disabled employees to time off, modified work schedules and other accommodations that enable them to perform the essential job functions.
Notes on Harassment
The same is true with regard to policies relating to sexual harassment and other forms of unlawful harassment. While bullying or general harassment is certainly not encouraged or condoned in any workplace, the law does not presently consider such conduct to be illegal. Policies in this area are discretionary. Sexual harassment and harassment based on other protected categories, such as sexual orientation or race, are prohibited, and some states mandate that specific language be included in policies relating to harassment. Regardless, every policy relating to sexual harassment should have the following core components:
- a statement that the company will not tolerate harassment
- examples of the types of behavior that constitute harassment
- a statement encouraging employees to come forward if they feel victimized
- an internal complaint process that provides easily accessible avenues of complaint to at least two persons
- assurance that all complaints will be handled as confidentially as possible and that no one will be retaliated against for complaining or otherwise cooperating
- a statement that good-faith complaints will be investigated in a prompt, thorough and impartial manner
- a promise that policy offenders will be disciplined, and corrective and remedial action will be taken, if harassment has occurred.
The lack of an effective and legally compliant policy can expose your company to great risk at a time where sexual and other harassment complaints continue to be filed on a regular basis.
Employment Status and Benefits
Another important section for your pizzeria employee handbook relates to employment status and records. Employers should carefully delineate employment categories, such as exempt and nonexempt, as well as part-time and full-time employees. Here, the employer should also address whether employees have access to personnel files, and state laws vary in that regard. Other topics that should be covered include reference checks, personnel data changes, employment applications and performance evaluations.
Benefits are another area that should be covered in your pizzeria employee handbook. Some benefits are mandated under state or federal law, such as workers compensation and COBRA for covered employers, while other benefits are purely discretionary. Regardless of whether it is required or not, it is best for an employer to carefully delineate which benefits it offers to which employees. Some employers choose to offer holiday pay, sick time and personal time to employees. An employer can offer such benefits exclusively to full-time employees if it chooses and can require a certain waiting period, such as 90 days, before such benefits accrue or can be used. The employer sets the rules, but the rules must be applied fairly and consistently to everyone. It is very important that benefits policies be clear and unambiguous, as they will be construed in the employee’s favor if ever challenged.
Many employers offer health insurance, dental insurance, life insurance, short-term and long-term disability insurance, bereavement leave, maternity leave and paid time off. Some employers choose to lump together personal days, sick time and vacation pay into paid time off or an earned time bank. Whatever it is called, your pizzeria employee handbook should detail how many days an employee is entitled to, how that time accrues, whether the employee will be paid for the time when separation occurs, and whether time can be carried from year to year. Many laws are specific as to whether vacation time, for example, will be considered “wages,” so employers are urged to consult with a local employment attorney to further understand what payment is required and when.
Federal and state laws address some leaves of absence. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act applies to companies with 50 or more workers and allows eligible employees up to 12 weeks off to take care of their own serious health condition or a family member who is ill (this also applies to employees who take time off for the birth or adoption of a child). Maternity leave and paternity leave should be considered, as many states have specific laws allowing leave, but they vary by state. Many state laws also address jury duty and witness duty.
Timekeeping and payroll are other important topics that should be addressed in a pizzeria employee handbook. The employer should specify how employees keep track of their time and when they will be paid. It is important to have a safe harbor provision in the employee handbook that encourages employees to report any pay discrepancies to a company representative. This will help insulate an employer from liability under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
“Work conditions and hours” is another recommended section, and here the employer should address work schedules, telephone and computer use, smoking, overtime pay, expenses, safety, and inclement weather. Many states have particular smoking policies, and the law should be reviewed in this area. Employers are free to prohibit the use of cellphone calls and personal computer use during the workday and, if so, that should be clear in writing. All work scheduling and overtime issues, such as whether preapproval is necessary, should be addressed in detail.
Rules of Conduct
I recommend a final section relating to other guidelines that apply in the workplace, such as employee conduct, drug and alcohol use, attendance and punctuality, personal appearance, resignation and termination. Regular attendance of workers, for example, is important for pizzeria owners to effectively run their businesses. A procedure should be outlined whereby employees are told whom to call into, whether leaving a message is enough, and how much advance notice might be needed. Companies should have particular policies addressing violent or threatening behavior in the workplace, and what employees should do if they feel intimidated or otherwise fear for their safety.
Finally, electronic communications policies and social media policies, as well as cellphone use, should be prominently addressed in an employee handbook. Pizza delivery drivers, for example, should be explicitly advised that texting and cellphone use while driving during the course of employment are expressly prohibited. Many state laws specifically address this topic and other “distractions” that can divert a driver’s attention.
Sending or receiving personal emails should also be addressed, as they often impact an employee’s productivity and can expose an employer to risk of harm by computer viruses, sharing of confidential information and infringement on trademarks. Social media, too, cannot be ignored, as more than 500 million users are on Facebook, and other social media sites are prominent in people’s personal and professional lives. Crafting the appropriate restrictions is not easy, as this is a new area of the law where developments and best practices are being discovered on a daily basis.
It cannot be overemphasized that policies must be clearly written to the audience for which they are intended and properly communicated. In addition, they must be enforced in a way so that all employees, old and young, male and female, do not feel targeted or singled out. The “protected categories,” as articulated above, must be recognized in all aspects of policy enforcement. For example, if a gay employee receives a written warning for smoking in the parking lot while a heterosexual employee doing the same is not disciplined in any way, the gay employee may claim discriminatory treatment because of the different enforcement of the policies.
Handbook policies are an important and effective tool for establishing boundaries and communicating what an employer has to offer. Keep in mind that the policies should be up-to-date, legally compliant and relevant to the workforce. As no two handbooks should be identical, employers are advised to consult with a human resources professional or employment counsel to craft the right message, comply with applicable law, and make their handbook policies a positive part of their performance management programs.
Julie Moore is founder and president of Employment Practices Group in Wellesley, Massachusetts. This story appeared in the April 2011 issue of PMQ Pizza Magazine and has been edited slightly from the original.