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9:39am EDT July 22, 2002

Those eight years went by in a flash.

Joseph Smith, owner of H&S Forest Products Inc. in Northwest Columbus, founded his wooden pallet wholesaling company in 1990. Shortly thereafter, he hired a consulting firm, which wrote a handbook for his five employees.

Then the daily running of his company took over. He grew the business to 16 employees and $35 million in sales. For eight years, the employee handbook remained virtually untouched.

“You get so tied up with the business that you’re running hard and there’s a lot of times these things slip through the cracks,” Smith says.

He already knew his handbook was missing at least one aspect: use of the computer. After all, eight years ago, only certain individuals used the computer. Now, all of his employees have access, raising the concern of ensuring that company computers are reserved for business, not personal, use.

“The majority of shopping is done between 8 and 5 on the Internet, and I’m sure it’s not all done at home,” he says.

Smith chose Rea & Associates, a company based in New Philadelphia that has a Dublin office, to update the employee handbook. He’d already used the company to help him convert to an S corporation, do stock valuations and conduct accounting services.

Dan Toussant, director of human resources at Rea & Associates, says the H&S handbook basically was missing three things: an updated, formal policy on harassment; a policy on use of the computer; and an explanation of Ohio’s employment-at-will law.

Toussant says the harassment policy is important to make sure employees feel safe in their work environment.

“Part of our role is to remind people that harassment is in the eyes of the beholder, so be civil at all times and avoid remarks that could be offensive, as well as other things, like physical threats and more obvious forms of harassment,” Toussant says.

The policy should include information that harassment can be reported to two predetermined people in the company — a man and a woman — and a statement that the company will not tolerate retaliation against anyone who makes such a report.

Toussant says the computer policy in a company handbook should ensure employees know computers are for business use only.

“On the Internet, people need to know they represent the company, and whatever actions they’re taking, they’re taking on behalf of the company,” he says. “So make sure transactions and research are done for business purposes and that they don’t say or do anything that would violate the company’s confidentiality.”

Regarding employment-at-will, “it is the law that people can leave the company at any time, and they can be asked to leave at any time,” Toussant says, adding that the handbook should clearly state the law for both sides.

Other items that should be included in any handbook, Toussant says, are:

  • A warm welcome letter from the owner of the company.

  • The company’s philosophy and values.

  • A policy on workplace violence.

  • The traditional information about benefits and qualifications for those benefits.

Typically, Toussant’s firm charges between $3,000 and $4,000 for employee handbook projects, he says, which usually run on about a six-week timetable. For H&S Forest Products, as for many clients, Rea & Associates also created a PowerPoint presentation of the handbook to liven communication of its contents to employees.

“There are no guarantees in a handbook,” Toussant says, “but it certainly spells out responsibilities.”

How to reach: Rea & Associates, www.reacpa.com, 899-8725

Joan Slattery Wall (jwall@sbnnet.com) is associate editor of SBN Columbus.