What are HR policies—and why do organizations need them?
They include a range of organizational standards and protocols that pertain specifically to employees. These standards outline how organizations are expected to treat employees and how workers are expected to behave in turn.
For instance, they can present behaviour standards, disciplinary procedures, and company obligations.
HR policies differ from corporate guidelines in some respects. Think of them as one type of corporate guideline. Other types can include social responsibility, sustainability, and customer satisfaction, for example. They may provide guidance on how to address a broad spectrum of organizational issues, including workplace matters.
We’ll now discuss the what, why, and how in more depth.
Table of Contents
The Importance of HR Policies
What is their function?
HR policies affect everything from compensation to how you combat discrimination. They also help ensure that employees receive the protections they deserve and expect. Plus, they’ll help companies achieve compliance with regulations.
HR staff should refer to relevant policies when designing benefits packages, for instance. By laying the foundation for accountability and fairness, HR policies foster a healthy and functional organization. They ensure consistency in how the company treats its employees, which avoids legal issues.
There are other advantages as well. They improve transparency, helping employees understand how companies approach various situations. In turn, this builds trust. Further, they reflect an organization’s principles and commitment to employee wellbeing. They convey its values and help the organization follow best practices.
Essential HR Policies
What are the main types of HR policies to implement? Let’s look at four core types that have great importance from a legal standpoint.
Termination policies specify the conditions under which employees can be terminated. Importantly, they spell out whether employees can be let go without cause. They can also specify any notice or severance pay employees may be eligible for.
Health and Safety
Health and safety policies specify the types of physical conditions in which employees will work. They present measures the company will take to safeguard health and safety. Often, they can help prevent accidents. Plus, they can promote long-term wellness by providing appropriate lighting and clean drinking water, for instance.
They may also prohibit alcohol and drug use, presenting testing procedures that may be used. This can be especially important in professions that involve the use of machinery or affect public safety.
HR policies should also prohibit harassment on the job. The right documentation on harassment spells out the repercussions a worker, manager, or leader may face for harassing someone else. They may specify a set of disciplinary procedures to follow if harassment occurs. Further, they can state measures the company may take to help the victim feel protected.
Anti-discrimination policies present the company’s commitment to diversity and inclusivity in the workplace. They help ensure equitable hiring, promotion, and training decisions, for instance.
Employee conduct policies outline how employees are expected to act at work. They may specify the desired attendance, punctuality, and behaviour. Further, they often state how many violations are admissible. They may also specify how to notify managers of tardiness or absence. These help managers assess whether employees are meeting or exceeding expectations.
Employee Leave Policies
HR policies should also specify how much leave (paid and unpaid) employees can take. They can also present different types of leave, like family and sick leave. Plus, they should share procedures for requesting leave.
Your HR policies should also state how employees’ performance will be evaluated. Following a standard protocol for all employees will promote fairness. Your guidelines can outline this procedure. For example, it can specify that all employees will have quarterly reviews. (You can also require managers to use a similar questionnaire and rubric for all employees.)
HR policies may also hold employees to confidentiality agreements. This means they can’t share certain types of information with people outside the company.
Salary and Wage-Related Policies
HR should clearly outline the company’s equitable pay practices. They should specify holiday and overtime pay as well. They should also outline different categories of employees and how pay is calculated for each of them. Some companies may state meal and break policies, depending on working arrangements.
HR Policies Required by Law in Canada and the US
Canadian and U.S. labour law have some key differences. Most notably, U.S. employment is typically “at will,” meaning employees can be fired without cause. So, U.S. employment contracts and policies often make this clear. However, employees still can’t be fired for an illegal cause (like firing a workers’ comp claim, in many states).
In Canada, organizations must typically provide advanced notice of termination or severance pay.
The Society for Human Resource Management provides a list of U.S. legislation affecting HR. The Canadian government provides information on its federal labour laws. The Canada Labour Code governs everything from equal wages to jury duty leave. Keep in mind that Canadian provinces and U.S. states may have additional regulations.
Trending HR Policies
Several additional types of HR policies are trending, driven by shifting priorities in HR.
Telecommuting and Flex Hours Policies
Newer policies are specifying whether employees can work remotely—and if so, how frequently. They may also state whether employees can have flexible working hours.
Remote Employee Monitoring Policies
Policies can state whether—and how—you’ll track employees’ time spent working. Will you monitor their screen time, and if so, what technology will you use? This can help companies strike the right balance between privacy and performance monitoring.
Of course, many companies don’t directly track time spent working. Rather, they monitor overall performance, observing whether employees are effectively meeting goals. Performance management software can help them do this in a way that feels supportive rather than invasive.
Privacy and Security Policies
Organizations must provide increased reassurance that they’re keeping employees’ private data safe. Data-sharing and protection policies must be clearly outlined. For instance, companies must commit to keeping personal health information secure.
Dress Code Policy
Changing workplace norms around requiring new dress code policies. Formal dress has become less important in many workplaces due to remote work and shifting preferences.
Social Media Policies
Social media policies may prohibit the discussion of certain company-related topics on social media. They may also prohibit employees from giving the impression that they’re representing the company’s views.
Policies on Devices
As employees increasingly work from home, organizations must consider security. Some are requiring employees to strictly use a company computer and phone for work purposes. Others have more lax regulations.
This sampling of newer HR policies reflects many key issues in HR today. Now, let’s turn to how to actually craft Human Resources guidelines.
How to Write HR Policies and Procedures
Let’s examine when and how to design new HR policies, along with language to use and avoid.
When to Develop HR Policies
Consider whether any issues have become persistent problems—or created confusion. For instance, are employees noticing pay disparities? Review and update your policy on equal pay, even if this takes some legwork. Or are employees unclear about flex time rules? Create a formal one.
Following the 4 Cs of HR
When shaping policy, let the 4 Cs of HR guide you: being controlled, consistent, compliant, and contributing. Being controlled and consistent in laying the right groundwork will result in clear, well-focused decisions. This means doing your due diligence to make sure they are truly beneficial.
And it means consistently addressing timely issues in a fair and equitable way. Consider how they will contribute to a thriving workplace culture.
Make sure your policies comply with federal, state, and local laws, too. When considering health and safety, for instance, review Occupational Health and Safety Act requirements and any state regulations. They should align with this legislation.
We might add a 5th C, too: curious! Show curiosity by asking employees about what issues are on their minds. Administer regular surveys on a range of issues to find out how they feel about them. Then look at whether you already have up to date documentation on these topics. If not, you may need to design them.
Consider employees’ needs and any areas of confusion when writing new ones.
Key Elements of HR Policies
Most HR policies include the following components. Incorporate these elements into your formal descriptions to provide clarity.
For each policy, write up a statement specifying its purpose. Keep it brief and straightforward, explain the “why” behind it.
Explain the logistics of how the policy works. For example, a company might state particular days on which employees can work from home. Or, it might allow employees to work flexible hours with the exception of particular meetings.
Specify who will carry out core elements of the policy (for example, managers). Also state any crucial details about how they will do so. For instance, managers addressing a harassment claim would probably follow a formal protocol.
When It Will Take Effect
State when the policy will take effect and any relevant details about its implementation.
When it’s finalized, introduce it to employees thoughtfully. Give them time to ask questions. You’ll gain more buy-in when they feel you’ve addressed their concerns.
Support your HR policies with the right HR software. How does this work? When conducting performance reviews, software can help ensure you’re using the right criteria and procedure, for instance. Software can also help you make fair promotional decisions by accurately assessing performance, avoiding discrimination.
And software can help you maintain your commitment to every employee’s growth.
Language to Avoid in HR Policies
Organizations should avoid “always/never” language whenever possible, notes SHRM. They should also avoid presenting lists as all-inclusive. (For example, lists of job descriptions should not be presented as all-inclusive.)
Avoid complicated and ambiguous language as well. They should be easy to interpret and understand. Run any new policies by a qualified attorney to ensure they comply with regulations.
Where to Share HR Policies
Where are HR policies typically found?
Many types are presented in the employment contract. For example, a contract will typically state grounds for termination. The contract will also present a (non-inclusive) list of job duties, salary, confidentiality requirements, and other key info.
Review your HR policies periodically to keep them up to date. In most cases, they’ll need to evolve over time. By staying current with emerging issues and legislation, you’ll ensure compliance and keep your reputation strong.
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