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HR professionals are often confronted with employee relations issues in the workplace and faced with deciding the best approach in handling these issues. Company policies are created to establish expectations and to provide guidance on how to consistently handle workplace situations. Although most company policies are not all-encompassing, they provide direction regarding what is appropriate as well as inappropriate or unacceptable behavior. Company policies help maintain order within the organization and ensure that people are treated fairly and equally. Policies also help employees understand what is expected of them. The five steps needed to develop and implement a new employer policy are outlined below.
Step 1: Identify the Need for a Policy
Employers do not need to create policies for every unforeseen event as this will limit management’s ability to address individual employee needs or unique situations. Policies should provide good guidelines and expectations to ensure fair and consistent practices and legal compliance. Employers may want to develop a policy:
Step 2: Determine Policy Content
Policies are written guidelines that explain generally what the employer’s requirements are and how employees will be treated. As organizations create new policies, they should be careful to avoid language that conveys rigid rules that must be followed exactly as written in all circumstances. Flexibility should be built into the wording, and promises that could be interpreted as a contract should be eliminated. For example, organizations should not:
Employers should use terms such as “generally,” “typically,” “usually” and “may” so that managers have flexibility in interpreting and applying the policies based on the circumstances involved and on the severity of any company policy violation(s).
All policies need to be written in clear language. The policy language itself could, and often times does, vary from employer to employer depending on size, industry and sometimes even location. SHRM’s resources such as sample policies and publications are available through the SHRMStore to assist with developing policies. However, most policies have similar components. The typical components are outlined below:
Although employers are free to create policies according to business needs, the policies must be written in compliance with pertinent employment laws. This can be more complicated for multistate employers because it is critical to ensure that policies do not conflict with more than one set of state employment laws. Therefore, all policies should be reviewed by experienced legal counsel prior to communicating the policy to employees.
Step 3: Obtain Stakeholder Support
All too often those who are expected to carry out the policies and ensure adherence to the policies are not consulted prior to the implementation of the policy. Once the policy has been drafted, it will be important to communicate (e.g., meetings, e-mails, teleconferences) with managers and supervisors who will be expected to apply the policy. This communication should include why the new policy (or revision) is needed, address the impact the policy will have on the stakeholder’s area(s) and address any potential thoughts or concerns the stakeholders may have. Considerations from these meetings will lead to any necessary revisions before legal counsel conducts its final policy review.
Step 4: Communicate with Employees
Organizations should give employees background information (when possible) as to why the policy is being implemented. Employees should be given enough details to make the organization’s position clear while keeping the communications process short and simple. Employers can determine the best approach to introduce the policy to employees based on the nature, sensitivity and ease in which the policy will be understood. The best means of distributing the policy (e.g., e-mail, memo, or individual/small group/all-employee company meetings) must also be determined. If using e-mail or company memo, these communications should be distinguishable from other routine communications that employees may easily overlook. For example, organizations can specify the topic in the subject heading, change the importance of an e-mail, change the background and font of a memo or e-mail, change the delivery method of memos, or add read receipts for e-mails.
Employers should incorporate a communication method that will give employees an opportunity to ask questions about the policy. The policy should consist of an acknowledgment statement indicating the employee’s receipt and understanding of the new policy along with the effective date of the policy. The policy should contain space for the employee’s signature and date. It should also be added to the organization’s employee handbook or intranet and included in new-hire orientation programs as appropriate. Employers should notify employees where they can access the policy later (i.e., links to intranet site, attachment of policy to print and add to their employee handbook).
Step 5: Update and Revise the Policy
Clear, well-written policies that are regularly reviewed can be effective employee relations tools and communications devices. They illustrate the organization’s commitment to a positive work environment. Although written policies in general are not legally required, they can be used to demonstrate nondiscriminatory employment practices and serve as the basis for an effective defense in employee lawsuits.
Policies should be reviewed on a regular basis to ensure they continue to comply with federal and state laws and the needs of the organization. New laws, regulations and court cases can affect both policy language and how employers implement the policies. Most experts suggest a thorough review of policies at least once a year. Employers should also use resources that will keep them updated in the interim, like subscribing to a service or publication or becoming part of an organization that specializes in HR or employment. SHRM is committed to updating its members of the latest news on state and federal laws and the latest upcoming or proposed legislation through Government Affairs that may have an impact on HR professionals.
The HR Knowledge Center has gathered resources on current topics in HR management. Click here to view and request information.
This material is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should always contact your attorney to determine if this information, and your interpretation of it, is appropriate to your particular situation.
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