I’d like to continue the conversation started by Bill Weigand about how successful family businesses need formal employment policies.  Tempting as it may be to stay informal and handle personnel matters without pages of personnel policies and procedures, there are some key personnel policies that all well-run businesses need to adopt, communicate to their workforce, and follow. 

First is an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) policy that assures all employees that the company does not discriminate in employment on the basis of any protected characteristics (sex, race, color, religion, age, national origin, disability, veteran or marital status, etc.).  These legally protected characteristics differ based where you do business, so it is important to know which laws apply to your workforce.

Second is a Respectful Workplace (Anti-Harassment) policy that prohibits unlawful harassment on all applicable legally protected characteristics, and explains to who you need to complain if the policy is violated   Companies without this policy basically put their family business at unnecessary risk.

Third is a Reasonable Accommodation policy that explains that the company reasonably accommodates employees on the basis of religion or disability.  This policy should also explain that an employee who needs an accommodation needs to notify the employer, explain what they need and why they need it. 

Why make sure your family business has at least these policies?  Not only is equal employment opportunity the law, but these days your employees know it is.  Workers in a family owned business accept that family members may be likely to hold key roles or make the key business decisions.  However, they also expect to have personnel decisions made without regard to legally protected characteristics. 

A respectful workplace helps you recruit and retain talent.  Talented workers are very aware of their right to be treated professionally and not to experience racial slurs, ageist remarks or sexual banter at work.    Employees also are increasingly aware through the Internet of their employer’s obligations to consider making changes that might be needed when workplace limitations occur due to medical conditions, or conflicts arise with religious obligations.

Discrimination, harassment and failure to accommodate claims are preventable, and policies can help prevent claims or minimize them if they occur.  Once these claims take off, however, they can be challenging to defend, especially given the dynamics of a family business. 

I have a couple more policies that fit into the “must have” category.  Stay tuned for the next installment!