Trustworthy, dependable employees are crucial to your store success. While we want to believe that all our employees are honest and respectful, it's also important to guard against any problems that can be posed by those who are not.
An employee handbook is essential for sketching out your expectations for sales associates and defining exactly what constitutes unacceptable behavior. Being clear with your employees can help avoid future workplace disputes. Retailers should have employees sign the handbook as confirmation that they were made aware of the policies inside. That makes it easier for employers if they do need to take disciplinary action or move toward termination. An employee handbook helps set the ground rules. Free coffee is fine. Free shoes are not fine.
Employee Handbook Basics
The retail employee handbook can cover a range of policies and expectations, including, but not limited to:
- Hiring and firing
- Punctuality and missed shifts
- Commitment to a drug and alcohol-free workplace
- Maternity policy
- Disability policy
- Vehicle use especially if employees are making deliveries. This section can also include the mileage reimbursement policy and procedures following an accident
- Prohibition of harassment/discrimination
- Use of corporate credit cards (if any employees have access to them)
- Cash management and financial policies to cover access to cash, how it is handled and whether a manager or supervisor has to sign off at the end of a shift
- Computer access and social media guidelines
- Building access who can get into the building and when; no copying of keys allowed
- Inventory management
If you have more than one location, you cannot police behavior all the time by yourself. That manager who seems really great when you're in the store could exhibit less-than-exemplary behavior in your absence. Employment practices liability insurance may cover losses arising out of employee disputes where harassment, discrimination or retaliation may be involved. While employee handbooks are important, they don't eliminate your exposure to employment practices liability problems. Business liability policies generally have a standard exclusion for employment practices liability exposures, or may offer only limited coverage. Be sure any policy you consider is adequate to meet the needs of your retail operation, and includes adequate coverage for employment practices liability.
As the boss, it's also your responsibility to provide your employees with safe work conditions and proper training. Even small retail spaces tend to have a storage space or storage room, so retailers should be sure to train employees on practices such as proper lifting and ladder safety. Slips, trips and falls are a concern not only for your customers, but for your employees. The retail trade is particularly affected by workplace injuries, with 123,770 incidents that required employee time away from work in 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.1
When employees are injured on the job, workers' compensation insurance offers coverage for medical expenses and wage replacement. Laws requiring workers' compensation insurance exist in almost every state, though they can vary in requirements. Going without workers' compensation coverage could result in penalties and fines.
Retailers may benefit from working with insurance companies that offer alternate workers' compensation pay arrangements. Typically insurance companies require businesses to pay a larger portion of the workers' compensation premium upfront. If the retailer hires additional sales associates over the course of the year, the insurance premium may increase to cover those additional employees, meaning the owner will owe additional premium at renewal. Some insurance companies offer workers' compensation in a pay-as-you-go arrangement, eliminating the requirement for a down payment and allowing employers to pay for the insurance as they pay their employees. This can be essential for retail, which is more cyclical in nature, tending to boost staffing during busy seasons, and reducing it during lighter times. Under a pay-as-you-go scenario, if a retailer paid accurately throughout the year, the guesswork and surprise premium increase should be eliminated.
In today's competitive retail environment, the right procedures and policies can help position your retail team to do its best work. Don't let negative employee issues pull your focus away from your customers. Be sure to work with knowledgeable, experienced insurance companies that can help you manage these existing risks and select the right coverages to protect your store.
1 U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Nonfatal Occupational Injuries and Illnesses Requiring Days away from Work, 2015," Nov. 10, 2016.
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