Policy is a critical component for any organization, but it’s a place where many small businesses fall short. In some cases, the business simply hasn’t taken the time to develop their policies and share them with employees. In other cases, policies exist, but they’re outdated and not consistently enforced.
The lack of policies or inconsistent enforcement of policies creates substantial risk for the employer. In the case of an EEOC complaint or a lawsuit against an employer, the presence of written policies and evidence of how they were enforced can make or break a case.
So what makes a good policy?
Your policies need to be clearly understandable for all employees and supervisors. While some companies may be tempted to keep things vague to make enforcement easier, it actually makes it harder and creates more risk in the long run. For example, a dress code policy needs to be more than “dress professionally,” because that can be interpreted differently. If flip flops and sneakers aren’t allowed, clearly state that they’re not allowed.
As you develop your policies, it’s helpful to include a human resources consultant or other outside entity in reviewing the draft policies and providing feedback. It may also be helpful to include a committee of employees to provide feedback and ask clarifying questions during the development phase, as employees may have questions that management hasn’t considered.
While you want your policies to be clear and specific, they also need to be accessible for employees and managers, which means keeping them concise. This isn’t the place for lots of flowery language to introduce why policy matters—it’s the place to get down to business and say what you need to say.
The structure of your policies is also important. If you have an employee handbook (printed or online) that includes all policies, be sure there’s a table of contents and clear page numbers so employees can find the relevant section when needed.
Consistency is one of the most important aspects of policy. What you do for one, you must do for all. Yes, there may be some exceptions in certain situations, but you should strive for as much consistency as possible with your policies.
If your tardy policy says employees who arrive late by more than 10 minutes will be given a written warning, you need to give a written warning to any employee who is late, regardless of the reason. If your vacation policy states that a request must be submitted ten days in advance, you need to enforce that with every employee.
In general, employee policies should be reviewed and revised at least annually. In some cases, revisions may be required more frequently. Organizations grow and things change, so be sure to adjust your policies in response to business changes.
However, as you change policy, be sure to notify employees in advance and give them time to prepare for the new policy. For example, we had one client who changed their dress code policy to shift from an extremely casual dress to requiring slacks every day. Some of their employees needed to purchase new clothes to align with that policy, so advance notice was especially helpful and appreciated.
By creating clear, concise, consistent, and current policies, you can ensure that all members of your team know what’s expected of them and protect your company.
If you need help creating or revising policies to meet the changing needs of your business, contact Why HR today for more information about policy consulting.