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A personnel manual can be helpful

November 20, 2010

Q: I am a retired human resources professional. After a few years of peace and quiet, I agreed to serve on our condominium board. We have a fairly large property with several employees who actually work for our association and a number of independent contractors. I was shocked to discover that we don't have a personnel manual. When I asked the manager, a CAM, he said that when dealing with employees it's best to have nothing in writing. Is he right?

A: Yes,, things have changed but not in the direction your CAM suggests. The number of lawsuits filed against employers for violations of employment related laws is rising every month. It is possible that this increase is the result of challenging economic times when employees are more likely to complain when laid off or terminated. It is also possible that employment related claims have received so much publicity that people who might not have sued in the past are more likely to do so now.

The purpose of these laws and rules, as I'm sure you know, is to assure that all employees are treated fairly and equally. A well drafted personnel manual is one way to minimize the possibility and impact of employment related claims. Your board is charged with protecting the assets of the association. Present the omission to them and consider drafting a manual as soon as possible.

Some of the issues you may want to address in a manual, besides the obvious effort to memorialize vacation and sick leave policies and holiday dates, are procedures for employee discipline; a sexual harassment policy with procedures to file an internal complaint; statements of nondiscrimination and basic rules. Some personnel manuals now include policies about using the Internet, making personal calls and texting.

Associations have some unique issues to address. For example, what is your policy on allowing employees to perform work for individual unit owners? What is the policy for using the association credit cards? Can employees borrow association tools and equipment for personal use?

Association personnel are sometimes surprised to learn that independent contractors such as landscapers and bookkeepers who work for the association can also file employment related claims. A manual can be useful in preventing claims from independent contractors and vendors also.

There are templates available online to facilitate the development of a manual but as a human resources professional, albeit retired, you re probably aware that the prudent step is to have a manual reviewed by an attorney.

Attorney Sylvia Heldreth is a Certified Specialist in Real Estate Law. Her office is located at 1215 Miramar Street in Cape Coral.

This article is not intended as specific legal advice to anyone and is based upon facts that change from time to time. Individuals should seek legal counsel before acting upon any matter involving the law.



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