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HR Policies & Procedures:  Dust Collectors or Valuable Documents?

Have you every heard someone in your organization complain that a colleague was given preferential treatment?  "Why did they get five days off when their Aunt passed away, and I only took 1 day off when my friend passed away?  That's not fair!"  As a manager, have you found yourself in uncomfortable situations where you don’t know how to proceed?  “Susie called me a _________ again.  What should I do?".  It’s at times like these that well crafted HR Policies and Procedures show their value.

In the above scenario, employees can access their Bereavement Policy to see what to expect if a loved one passes, and their supervisor can refer to the policy to guide their actions during this difficult time.  The policy sets out what can be expected, while the procedure sets the policy into action.  The documentation, whether paper or electronic, notifies the supervisor that an employee has suffered a bereavement, the team is notified that they will be short a member for a specified period of time, the payroll department is notified of how to handle any absence in terms of compensation and benefits, the absence is recorded and, perhaps, a note of condolence is sent. An HR Policy Manual that includes a Code of Conduct, a Conflict Resolution Process, a Harassment Policy and Investigation Process, and a Progressive Discipline Policy could be referenced to direct action in the name calling scenario.

Policy Format

Policies and procedures do not have to be complex legal documents, but they do need to be well crafted and work within legislative requirements. Policies should also reflect the general culture of the organization.  Is the policy in sync with the general feel of the organization?  Is it written in a way that speaks to the employee population?  Is it a well-established, stable organization with little turnover or is it a smaller more dynamic company?  How you answer these questions may influence how policy and procedures are written and enacted.


Conditions that Warrant a Formal Policy

While the Internet is rife with examples of policy manuals, every organization is different and has unique needs.  When considering whether a policy is required, it may help to answer the following questions.

  • Is it a situation that seems to occur repeatedly and is causing some confusion in the workforce? 

  • Does it merit a written policy or just an executive communication clarifying a standard of practice?  There is no need to write a policy for every situation that arises.

  • Is it a situation where all employees need to be treated in the same manner in order to establish equity and fairness in the workplace?

    Referring back to the bereavement example, the policy should clearly state on what conditions leave will be given and whether it will be paid or unpaid.  Is there travel involved? Will bereavement leave be extended when travel is involved.  Will this be paid or unpaid time?  Remember that "equity" does not translate to "equal".  In the above example, perhaps the Aunt in question in reality acted as the employee's "mother" and, while always being mindful of confidentiality, the employee was given time to grieve the loss.


  • Is it a situation where people are unsure how to act?

    Dress Codes are an example of this.  Is there a certain organizational image that needs to be portrayed or is it a relaxed and creative culture where a dress code would be counter to the culture of the organization.

  • Are work standards and codes of conduct well established and clear?  Some examples could be:

    • Disciplinary Policies

    • Policies regarding use of corporate resources, such as Internet and office equipment and supplies

    • Expense policies

    • Absence policies

  • Is it a situation where the organization is bound to act in a certain way to abide by legislation (and mitigate risk), such as Human Rights Legislation, Employment Legislation, Privacy Legislation or Health & Safety Legislation?

    For example, is there a well established and communicated policy regarding Harassment in the workplace and the processes that will be set in action should a complaint arise?  How is employee personal confidential information protected? How is it stored? When will it be destroyed? Who has access to this information and on what basis?

Regardless of the policy, it is imperative that workplace policies are consistently applied and are well known and understood by all employees. It is a good practice to have employee's sign-off that they have read and understood the policies and have had an opportunity to ask questions regarding the policies that affect their place of work.

Dust Collectors or Valuable Documents?

Policies should not be relegated to collect dust on a shelf; they need to be easily accessible to all stakeholders and they need to be current and updated with changing legislative requirements or organizational changes.   If carefully written, communicated and understood, and consistently applied, HR policies and procedures provide a value resource for equitable and fair treatment of people in an efficiently run organization.  By establishing a framework for conduct and removing uncertainty, policy and procedure can free people to concentrate on the business or service that they are tasked to provide. And, if disagreements or disputes arise they are excellent resources to clarify expectations and courses of conduct.

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