Guide to Developing an Plumbing Employee Handbook Template for your Business
You hired a new employee for your plumbing service company — congratulations! Next order of business: Have them review and sign the employee handbook as a condition of employment. Your plumbing employee handbook gives them a rundown of what to expect at the new job, but it serves several crucial business needs as well, like explaining company policies and detailing employee benefits.
If you don’t have an employee handbook that spells out those expectations, you leave the door open for employee disputes or even litigation.
“You are not actually required to have a comprehensive employee handbook that lays out the company policies,” says Ian Schotanus, known as “The HR Guy,” and co-founder of The Big Picture Consulting. “However, without one, you leave yourself very vulnerable to lawsuits.”
At ServiceTitan, we want to help plumbing business owners run their companies better, so we compiled a sample employee handbook template to help get you started, and asked Schotanus to break down the most important details to keep in mind as you develop your own. Read on to learn all about the must-haves for creating your employee handbook.
>> Download ServiceTitan’s free Plumbing Employee Handbook Template.
Table of Contents
Why a Plumbing Handbook Matters
A company’s growth depends on putting the right systems in place.
“There are three reasons why we make mistakes,” says Al Levi, Consultant and CEO ofThe 7-Power Contractor. “No. 1 is we don’t have a system. No. 2, we have the wrong system. And No. 3 — this is a lot of the time — the system is not being followed correctly.”
Without an employee handbook that details employment expectations for absenteeism, for example, or explains what happens when employees are found in violation of this policy, you’ll have no leg to stand on when confronting these issues 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 plumbing 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?”
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 adds.
Should Plumbing Contractors Write Their Own Employee Handbook?
Before trying to write an employee handbook on your own, plumbing contractors must first understand the laws pertaining to their company business.
Such information includes federal laws, like family and medical leave (FMLA) requests, sexual harassment policy, or providing reasonable accommodation for military leave. You also must understand how state laws affect the company, such as paying for workers’ compensation insurance, drug testing procedures, or rules for termination.
Despite the daunting task before them, many plumbing 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 Schotanus thinks it’s better to just avoid the DIY plumbing employee handbook process altogether, and hire a professional.
“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,” he says. “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 plumbing employers into costly legal battles for everything from property damage, wage theft, benefit payouts, wrongful termination, conflict of interest, 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, money, and well-being.
What’s in a Plumbing Employee Handbook?
To start, take a look at your job descriptions. You likely outline expectations and compensation structures there, and the employee handbook must match that to avoid confusion.
“Job descriptions allow people performing the same job to be measured by the same goals and expectations, while allowing the team to know where they're falling short,” says Vanessa Gonzales, Senior Manager of Product Utilization at ServiceTitan.
A good employee handbook begins with a table of contents to outline each section, from the welcome message to new employees on their first day to general employment policies, job duties, benefits, and compensation.
While companies often list the employee signature page at the beginning of the employee handbook, Schotanus recommends moving that to the end.
“It’s a little psychological, but that should be at the end,” he says. “If you do it at the beginning, it’s just encouraging them to sign off. But including it at the end shows they actually went through the handbook.”
A handbook also outlines the company‘s policies related to equal employment opportunity, disciplinary action, anti-discrimination and harassment, and other working conditions.
While many employee handbook templates can be adapted for the average employer, residential and commercial plumbers 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.”
Plumbing 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, such as not using them to check or post on social media.
Due to trade secrets, you may need rules around electronic communication from company cellphones and tablets. An 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.
Other crucial employee handbook sections include:
Exempt and nonexempt employees
Personal vehicles and limiting liability
Progressive disciplinary policy
Paid time off (PTO)
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Schotanus offers the following suggestions for using ServiceTitan’s sample employee handbook template to create those sections:
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 work 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 plumbing company also provides electrical or HVAC 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 should 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 for reimbursement, 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 warnings and corrective action.
“At-will allows for immediate 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.”
Instead, use performance evaluations to discuss any work performance issues and plans to resolve such conduct.
Forced arbitration: Leave this out of your employee handbook, since it really doesn’t apply to small and mid-size plumbing 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: Plumbing service is essential, so making technicians available when needed proves 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 New Year’s Day or Christmas 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.
Insurance: Be clear on your eligibility requirements for offering health insurance to full- or part-time employees, and which family members your coverage includes, whether spouse only or spouse plus dependents. Also be sure to explain your precise policy for employees with serious health conditions who want to keep their jobs but seek unpaid leave for medical treatment.
Outline information on any supplementary insurance offerings, like life insurance or accident insurance, including what the premiums cost.
Legal Disclaimers and the Plumbing 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 plumbing 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 plumbing contractors may need to comply with a variety of local laws that don’t apply in other regions of the country. And all plumbing contractors must stay on top of federal legislation that may supersede state law, such as the following:
“Affirmative Action: Employers who are government contractors may be subject to Executive Order 11246, Executive Order 13665, Directive 307, and other federal laws which prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or national origin, and require that employers take steps to ensure equal employment opportunity in the workplace.”
Hire a Professional to Create Your Employee Handbook
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.
“We have 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’s also important to review your employee handbook at least annually to ensure it reflects regulatory changes and still represents your company’s vision. Schotanus includes this follow-up annual review as a part of his company's retainer services.
For employee handbook changes, addendums should be made and distributed to the entire company, including full-time employees, part-time employees, and temporary employees. Staff must sign the addendum to acknowledge the updates.
“At some point, you have to merge it all together and reissue the employee handbooks,” Schotanus says. “Depending on the nature of the changes, it may be necessary to reissue it every year, though that’s more likely in California where laws change frequently. Elsewhere, you can go for a longer period of time, like three or four years, because the status quo doesn’t require that many changes.
“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,” he adds.