HVAC Employee Handbook Template: Why Contractors Shouldn’t Write Their Own
Developing an HVAC employee handbook serves several important business needs, such as outlining what’s expected of new employees, explaining company policies, and detailing employee benefits. Before trying to tackle writing an employee handbook on your own, however, HVAC contractors must first understand the applicable laws pertaining to their company business.
Do you know which federal laws apply to your HVAC service business, such as family and medical leave (FMLA) requests, claims of sexual harassment, or providing reasonable accommodation for military leave? How do state laws affect the company, such as paying for workers’ compensation insurance, drug-testing procedures, or rules for termination?
Despite the daunting task that lies ahead, many HVAC company owners believe they can write their own employee handbook themselves or borrow one from their peers, then adapt the language to match their company‘s needs.
But when it comes to the DIY HVAC employee handbook, it’s better to just say no and hire a professional, says Ian Schotanus, known as “The HR Guy” and co-founder of The Big Picture Consulting.
“Residential service providers are a whole different animal when it comes to HR and safety regulations, which unfortunately makes most employee handbook templates all but unusable or all but unenforceable,” says the human resources specialist for the trades. “Simply put, there are too many variables to make it functional, compliant, and sustainable.”
A poorly written employee handbook, or one that’s misused or underutilized, can lead HVAC employers into costly legal battles for everything from wage theft, benefit payouts, wrongful termination, and even tax or insurance fraud charges.
“The most common problem with non-custom or ill-prepared handbooks is internal issues that lead to feelings of discrimination for various reasons as policies are either too vague in general, not consistently applied, or just flat-out ignored,” Schotanus says.
To avoid internal issues or even more complicated legal issues, hire an HR professional to write your own customized employee handbook. It’s a much more efficient use of your time and money. At ServiceTitan, we want to help HVAC owners run their businesses better, so we compiled a sample employee handbook template to help get you started, and we asked Schotanus to break down the most important things to keep in mind as you develop your own.
>> Download ServiceTitan’s free HVAC Employee Handbook Template.
Table of Contents
What’s in an HVAC Employee Handbook?
Your HVAC employee handbook should start with a table of contents that outlines each section of your employment relationship, from your introduction and welcome message to new employees on their first day, to your general employment policies, job duties, benefits, and compensation. A handbook also outlines the company‘s policies related to equal employment opportunity, disciplinary action, anti-discrimination and harassment, and other working conditions.
“The employee handbook has to be a living document that is forming the cornerstone of your company operations and how everybody's expected to relate to each other,” Schotanus says.
While many employee handbook templates can be adapted for the average employer, residential and commercial HVAC service providers often operate in different cities and states, all of which come with their own local laws, rules, and regulations.
“Do you want to have individual employee handbooks for each location they're in, or are you going to create one overarching policy set that meets the highest requirements of each individual state?” Schotanus asks. ”These are all judgment and business decisions that have to be made in real time.”
HVAC companies also trust eligible employees to operate company vehicles and other company property like tools, cellphones, or mobile tablets, all of which may involve establishing rules for personal use. A company employee might also be required to wear a certain uniform while working on the job, which needs to be spelled out as a condition of employment.
“Our handbooks generally have a two-page policy just devoted to use of company-owned vehicles,” Schotanus says.
>> Want to see a sample table of contents for an employee handbook? Check out the table of contents in ServiceTitan‘s free template.
Are HVAC Employee Handbooks Required?
The short answer? No.
“You are not actually required to have a comprehensive employee handbook that lays out the company policies. However, without one, you leave yourself very vulnerable to lawsuits,” Schotanus says.
You may decide your company doesn‘t need an employee handbook to remain compliant with federal, state, and local laws. But what happens when you seek immediate termination for an employee with poor work performance issues, and instead that employee sues you for not enforcing any type of harassment policy or shares trade secrets with your competitors?
Without an employee handbook that details employment expectations for absenteeism, for example, or explains what happens when employees violate this policy, you’ll have no foundation to stand on and you’ll ultimately lose control over your employees and your company.
“Culture has to start with the employee handbook,” Schotanus says. “It goes to the mindset of your average technician. They're very independent-minded, and they're going to do whatever they think is right to solve the problem. And if that doesn't mesh with the vision of the employer, that's where you're going to have conflicts and the employer loses control of the brand.”
The culture is the foundation upon which you build a successful HVAC business, and that includes offering employees a customized handbook to guide them and help them grow, says Chris Hunter, ServiceTitan’s Director of Customer Relations.
“A lot of this just comes down to some basics,” Hunter says in a recent webinar. “One is clearly knowing what's expected of an employee or, as an employee, what is expected of me? What does winning look like? And then when we do win, getting recognized for it.
“I mean it's so basic, but so many people, I think, get so busy they tend to kind of forget this,” he adds.
Schotanus says the employee handbook serves as the basis for how employees react to situations, and lays out the expectations for how everybody's supposed to look, respond, and act toward each other.
”If something goes sideways, what is the resolution process? You can't hold people accountable unless you have this,” he says.
The #1 newsletter for the trades.
Legal Disclaimers and the HVAC Employee Handbook
Upon reviewing the ServiceTitan sample template for employee handbooks, Schotanus took special note of all the red boxes included throughout that direct users to refer to state law when determining whether their HVAC work environment is compliant.
“The red boxes are the best part about this sample employee handbook template,” Schotanus says. ”Because it's letting them know this is what has to be looked at.”
For instance, the first note on the sample handbook cautions users to use the template as a general reference or resource only. It reads, in part:
“The matrix of federal, state, and local laws governing employment are too complex to create a “one-size-fits-all” handbook. These materials are not to be construed as providing legal, accounting, or any other professional service or advice.
Companies operating in more than one state, and even in more than one city in the same state, need to be especially careful because applicable law, particularly in the employment discrimination area, can vary significantly from state to state and even from city to city.
It is necessary to update your company policies from time to time to reflect changes in the workforce, employment trends, economic conditions, and state and federal legislation. Laws change and, as a result, the sample handbook may not be in compliance with current rules and regulations.”
In some heavily regulated states, such as California or New York, Schotanus says HVAC contractors may need to comply with a variety of local laws that don’t apply in other regions of the country. And all HVAC contractors must stay on top of federal legislation that may supersede state law.
“So, if somebody goes to look for discrimination in Alabama, the definition of discrimination may actually be under the requirements set by the federal law at this point,” he explains. ”It's just a very tricky thing. You have to know what you're looking at.“
It’s also important to review and update your employee handbook at least annually, then distribute advance notice for any addendums to the entire company, including full-time employees, part-time employees, and temporary employees.
Other Important Sections of the Employee Handbook
Schotanus offered a few other suggestions for using ServiceTitan’s sample employee handbook template as you prepare to develop your own. Here’s a recap:
Acknowledgment sign-off: Move this to the last page of the employee handbook to ensure employees read it fully before signing off.
Multi-state operations: If your company operates in more than one state, this will increase the complexity of an employee handbook exponentially. If you operate in the same regional area where co-workers directly interact with each other, he recommends one set of policies to rule them all. If you expand your California operations with acquisitions in places like Ohio or Texas, you’ll need three employee handbooks based on those local operations.
Multi-trade operations: If your HVAC company also provides plumbing and electrical services under one umbrella, you only need one employee handbook for the company. If you're divested and it's two or three distinct companies — staff, payroll, etc. — then you need separate employee handbooks.
Exempt employees and nonexempt employees: One employee handbook covers both. ”Almost everything that applies to a nonexempt employee applies exactly the same to an exempt employee. The differences may be when it comes to benefits,” Schotanus says, which can be outlined in the job offer as confidential information.
Personal vehicles and limiting liability: Establish universal processes across the company for use of company vehicles or when employees use their personal vehicles on the job. This might include rules for no passengers, general cleaning, maintenance tasks, tracking mileage, stocking inventory, and parking company vehicles on company premises. And don’t forget to set rules for traffic or moving violations and accident reporting.
Progressive disciplinary policy: Be careful not to tie your hands with a progressive disciplinary policy that requires documented violations and warnings.
“At-will allows for termination for any, or no, reason. A progressive disciplinary policy that is detailed out erodes that ability. The employee can still quit at any time, but you can't necessarily get rid of them without there being repercussions,“ Schotanus says. ”You have to make the expectations clear enough to be enforceable and with enough teeth to be enforceable. That's why almost every offense is disciplinary action up to and including termination.”
Forced arbitration: Leave this out of your employee handbook, since it really doesn’t apply to small and mid-size HVAC companies in the trades. If you’re not sure, talk to your legal team about whether arbitration is right for you.
“Putting a spotlight on arbitration and legal protection for the company — that doesn't set the right tone,” Schotanus says. ”There's no company message or core values that include protecting us from lawsuits. It just doesn't fly.”
Work schedule:HVAC service is essential, so making technicians available when needed is also critical to running a successful business. Clearly define your work hours, workday, and even workweek, so employees understand the expectations.
Holiday pay: Most companies observe federal holidays, like Memorial Day or Labor Day. But what happens if that holiday is on a Saturday or Sunday? How do you plan to observe it? If it falls on a regular payday, will you observe the holiday off in the pay period before or after? What about employees who take a leave of absence or are on sick leave that particular week? Will you dock them that holiday pay?
“These are things that are very common occurrences in the trades, more so than elsewhere. You have to account for it,” Schotanus says.
Paid Time Off (PTO): Outline your specific policies for how employees earn vacation time or accrue personal time off. This might include defining what constitutes a business day for your company, explaining the consequences of excessive tardiness, and even allowing a certain amount of pay for employees who perform jury duty.
Overtime pay: Your overtime policy should clearly state that employees may be required to work overtime but need approval from their manager or immediate supervisor before doing so. Don’t forget to provide a direct phone number, so they know how to immediately get in touch.
Health insurance: Be clear on your eligibility requirements for offering health insurance to full- or part-time employees, and plan to connect employees to potential healthcare provider networks. Also be sure to explain your precise policy for employees with serious health conditions who want to keep their jobs but seek unpaid leave.
Why Hiring a Pro to Write Your HVAC Employee Handbook Makes Better Sense
If you still don’t want to hire a professional to create and customize your HVAC employee handbook, Schotanus advises starting with a sample template like ServiceTitan’s or using one from a similar HVAC company that‘s prevailed in employee discrimination litigation.
The best solution for creating a rock-solid employee handbook, Schotanus says, is to “do it right the first time” by hiring a pro like The Big Picture Consulting.
“We provide professional services with years of experience doing exactly this type of work,” he says. ”We offer templates that were developed specifically for the trades. Your employee handbook has to be looked over and prepared by somebody who actually knows what they're looking at.“
To create a standalone, custom employee handbook, Schotanus says his company charges $800. To provide ongoing HR support, review for legal changes once a year, and make regular updates to the handbook, retainer services can also be purchased.
“We do a one-on-one conversation to learn how that employer wants to run their company. We ask specific questions that differentiate between either state-to-state or company-to-company. We do fresh research almost every time to identify new laws that have come out,” Schotanus says. ”And it's a two- to three-week process for us as professionals to get it right.
“It has to be a living document. If something turns out or is interpreted a different way, you have to be able to roll with it,” he adds.