Many of the human resources department’s roles revolve around ensuring a safe and legal work environment. One tool that aligns with this mission is the company policy. Learn why having documented policies are necessary today, as well as how to draft the best policies for your business.
What is a Company Policy?
Company policies are rules or guidelines that communicate expected employee behaviors, health and safety rules, and overall best practices for job duties. They can protect against unneeded legal proceedings and help the employer set the tone for how to interact with customers and the general public.
These policies also provide consistency, reduce bias, and foster a fair and equitable work environment. Many are designed with state and federal law in mind as well. Without these written policies, there would be no single expected way to address issues that arise in the workplace.
Types of Company Policies
Company policies vary in purpose, but most fall under the scope of protecting both the worker and the business. They should always align with the overall mission of the business while keeping federal and state legal requirements at a high priority. Some of the most common categories of company policy include:
1. Workplace Safety
Many industries are already regulated by specific government rules. OSHA, for example, determines the legal standard for everything from the proper temperature for food storage to the required worker age for using a knife. These laws are designed to protect workers, but a solid set of company policies can community these regulations in a way that’s easy for the employee and manager to understand.
Workplace safety and health policies provide accountability for existing rules and best practices that keep working conditions safe for everyone. Good policies should provide an example of what safety is, explain how to follow safety guidelines, and discuss what can be done if a worker sees something unsafe.
2. Equal Opportunity Policy
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), in coordination with federal, state, and local labor laws, ensures that workers aren’t hired or treated differently according to certain “protected” characteristics.
It’s illegal to discriminate against someone based on age, gender, or race, for example, and your workplace policies should reinforce these rules. They should also encourage workers to speak up if they see something that could potentially put them or the business at risk of breaking these anti-discrimination laws.
While equal opportunity policies help to make sure your company is legally compliant with employment laws, they also create an environment that promotes workplace diversity. These policies should address pregnancy and differently-abled workers as well.
3. Employee Conduct
Guidelines telling employees the acceptable behavior for the workplace, along with how to resolve the issues, are the hallmark of many company employee handbooks. These code of conduct policies cover many topics, including:
- Harassment and abuse
- Dress code
- Safety and evacuation plans for situations such as a fire or active shooter
- Email, computer, and cell phone use (including social media)
- Privacy, confidentiality, and customer information use
- Substance use and alcohol statement
Some of the policies listed in this category may overlap with other policies, such as safety procedures and those in the health category, for example. If you aren’t sure where to place a conduct policy section, include it in the one that makes the most sense for your company. You can also state it twice if needed.
4. Employee Discipline
In a perfect world, employees would do what was expected of them and never require disciplinary action. When rules are broken, however, a well-documented discipline policy can help. A set of policies can reduce misunderstandings and ensure that personal bias is left out of the process.
A step-by-step procedure for handling violations of all kinds can not only help you avoid litigation and increase performance outcomes, but it’s also vital for creating a safe and inclusive work environment.
Your policy can include many topics, but at a minimum it should cover:
- What’s considered cause for discipline
- How conduct will be handled
- Escalation of consequences (warnings vs. suspension)
- Cause and process for termination
- Mediation and legal recourse available to parties
A performance review can be a step in this policy as well.
5. Benefits and Leave Policy
Explaining the perks that your company offers can help boost morale and clear up confusion about what’s provided. This can eliminate back and forth between the HR department and staff regarding standard benefit questions, leaving your teams to pursue other tasks. It can also keep your employees informed about how and when to take leave, what leave is appropriate for each absence, and how excessive or unauthorized leave is handled.
The attendance policy should cover:
- PTO, flex-time, and sick leave
- Special case leave, such as maternity, paternity, and others as covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993
- Unexcused absences
- Split-shifts, job sharing, telecommuting, and schedule changes
Anticipate every possible leave request for the most comprehensive policy guide. Also make sure to address benefits, such as:
- Health, life, and dental insurance policies
- Retirement and 401K
- Stock options and employee equity
- Bonus and performance pay structure
Steps to Create and Implement a Company Policy
If you don’t have company policies yet or you recognize gaps in what you do have, consider this a good time to start anew. You don’t have to do all of the policies at once. Address each policy category or rule individually with these steps:
1. Determine if a Policy is Truly Needed
Too many rules can be hard to follow and may mask the importance of the truly vital ones. If you feel that you may be missing a policy, ask yourself these questions:
- Will it impact health and safety?
- Will it create a more inclusive work environment?
- Will it shield the company from litigation, fines, or criminal penalties?
- Will it improve performance and equip employees to do their jobs?
- Will it clear up confusion around existing policies or document a policy that exists but isn’t written down?
- Will it free up HR and management from answering simple, repeated questions?
- Will it replace an outdated or inefficient policy, or meet the requirements of a new law?
If you answered “yes” to one or more questions, you likely need that policy. However, policies dealing with legal requirements take precedence over the others.
2. State the Policy’s Goal
After you determine that the policy is needed, expand upon your answers to the questions in step 1 to create a mission for your policy. This will help you justify the time and effort taken to create the policy itself, and it can act as language you use when implementing it with your teams. Workers want to know “why” a policy is in effect—stating the goal gets you there.
You don’t need to start from nothing. Use other guidelines and policies, like OSHA bulletins and handouts, to back up your policy. Reference HR magazines, guides, and whitepapers for concise language to express the policy. Get your attorney or law professional’s advice as well. Gather these materials before you go on with the next step.
4. Write the Policy
Keep it concise and to the point. Avoid over-explaining. You cannot anticipate every possible situation, so focus on what’s most likely for your workforce.
5. Review, Revise, and Review Again
Get feedback from both employees and your management teams to see that the policy is clear and easy for them to understand. Use any reasonable change requests in your revisions. Run it by your legal team one last time, too.
Depending on the policy, you may only need to call out the change in a company-wide meeting that’s already taking place. Follow-up with emails, updates to the employee handbooks, and posters or bulletins, if needed. Train your managers on the new policy so that they can be on the front lines of communicating it on an ongoing basis. If you see pushback or the policy is causing more confusion than expected, revisit the policy from the beginning.
Company policies are just one way to recruit good team members. You also need the right tools to make sure you’re getting the best candidates. Learn more about how Comeet’s Applicant Tracking System can help.