Last week I visited a contractor for the first time. A lot of changes had to be made. The biggest change that had to be made was by the company owners.

For their company to be better, they had to change their actions.

I’ve often said that your employees are your children. In many cases, they act like kids and you have to treat them like kids. You have to tell them how to behave when answering the telephone, in front of customers, and in the office. You have to tell them how to dress (and in some cases bathe). You have to tell them what the rules are and the consequences of breaking the rules.

Like children, some will see how far they can stretch the rules without getting caught or getting in trouble. Most important, you must lead by example. If you tell your kids to keep their rooms clean and the house is a mess, there is less likelihood that they will keep their rooms clean. This is where discipline, both self-discipline and employee discipline, comes in. First you have to have rules. That’s where an employee manual outlining what you expect from an employee working with your company comes in. The rules all let everyone know what is expected of them and the consequences of not following the rules.  

You can’t expect everyone to follow the rules if you don’t follow them yourself. For example, if you have a clean-truck policy, you as the owner or manager must have a clean truck, too. You can’t expect your employees to have a clean truck if you don’t.

The enforcer

Next is enforcement. All rules have to be enforced uniformly from the top down. Everyone needs to see consistency. If you treat employees differently, you’re going to get questions such as, “Why doesn’t Johnny have to do this?” or “He’s not following the rules. Why do I have to?”

These are not the questions that you want to have to answer. In some cases you may not have been aware that a problem existed. In other cases, you are aware that someone did something and you have to enforce the rules.

 But you can’t play favorites. There may be times that you hate enforcing the rules because you really like an employee who screwed up. However, you can’t have different rules for different employees. The first time you let someone get away with breaking the rules and not being disciplined, you’ve lost that policy. Others will think they can break the rules and get away with it, too. And they’re right.

You can’t show favoritism when enforcing policies. Favoritism has gotten a lot of companies in legal trouble and cost them thousands of dollars. 

Rules can change over time, however. As your business grows or as the legal environment changes, sometimes your policies must change to conform to new conditions. As an example, when the refrigerant laws changed, your policy should have changed so that intentionally venting refrigerant could result in being fired. If someone challenges you in court, ignorance of the law is no defense. So make sure that you stay on top of the employee laws in your state. 

Each state has its own laws with respect to what needs to be in an employee manual. Once you have written yours, have it reviewed by a labor attorney in your state to make sure that it complies with local laws.

Copyright Ruth King. All rights reserved. Write to Ruth King, 1650 Oakbrook Drive, Suite 405, Norcross, GA 30093. Call (800) 511-6844; e-mail