Viewing policies on PowerDMS.
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January 25, 2018
    Article highlights
  • Don't spend another day without these critical policies.
  • Understand the nuanced differences between discrimination, harassment, and misconduct.
  • Good policies properly understood create a culture of excellence.

As we wrote in our post What Are Policies and Procedures? well-written policies help ensure compliance, streamline internal processes, and limit liability risks. Policies also set the tone for company culture, communicate expectations to employees, and guide day to day operations.

All policies are important, but some are more important than others. Some policies keep companies in compliance with employment laws and guide core aspects of business. Having these policies in writing is essential.

So, what policies should a company have?

The complete list of company policies will differ between industries and organizations. But there are several essential company policies no business can do without, no matter what industry they are in.

As you create, revise or update your employee handbook, here are seven company policies to make sure you include:

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1. Anti-Harassment/Discrimination

No list of company policies would be complete without an anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policy.

This is one of the company policies you need to limit your organization’s liability. Anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies are the first step in complying with U.S. employment laws about equal employment, civil rights, and discrimination.

What is workplace discrimination?

Workplace discrimination is defined as treating someone differently or unfairly because of factors such as their race, skin color, national origin, age, gender, disability, or religion.

For example, discrimination may happen if a company excludes employees of a certain race or gender from opportunities for promotion.

What is workplace harassment?

Workplace harassment is a form of discrimination. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, harassment involves unwelcome verbal or physical behavior that is based on the factors above.

There are several different types of harassment in the workplace. But in general, harassment becomes illegal when the employee must endure the offensive behavior in order to keep their job. Or when it results in a hostile work environment.

woman touching man's hand in office

Protecting your organization

Clear, thorough policies and training can help set the tone for an inclusive, respectful work environment. They can keep your organization out of court and ensure that your employees feel safe and comfortable at work.

It’s especially important to safeguard your organization and your employees from sexual harassment, which can be detrimental both to the wellbeing of your staff and the integrity of your organization.

The policies should prohibit discrimination and harassment, provide some simple definitions and examples, and lay out the process for reporting and the consequences if an employee is found in violation of the policies.

In order for anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies to be effective, you need to ensure that every employee reads and acknowledges them.

A good policy management software can help you easily distribute policies to all employees and collect electronic signatures.

2. Leave and Time-Off Benefits

Vacation and leave is one of the most important company policies to include in your handbook.

Employees will want time off—whether for vacations, health issues, or family issues. It’s essential that your company establish clear expectations and procedures for taking time off work.

The U.S. federal government has few regulations about paid time off, sick leave, or holidays. It’s generally up to employers to decide how much paid time off they will offer.

However, every employer must comply with the Family and Medical Leave Act. The act dictates that employers must grant up to 12 weeks of leave for employees in certain cases: such as those who are having a child, facing a serious health condition, or caring for a sick family member.

Many states also have different employment laws. For example, some states, such as California, require employers to pay employees for accrued vacation when the employee leaves the company.

Even in areas that aren’t regulated by laws, it’s helpful to have clear company policies about time off and leave. These policies limit misunderstandings and ensure everyone is on the same page.

3. Workplace Safety

Whether your company’s workers are operating heavy machinery, stocking shelves or sitting at computers, they face some level of risk. Workplace safety policies are a must to help prevent costly accidents.

These policies also ensure compliance with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations, which include broad safety regulations as well as specific safety standards for different industries.

Along with following OSHA’s safety standards for your industry, your safety policies should lay out proper procedures for work tasks that could be dangerous.

The policies may cover things such as health risk and everyday tasks, as well as procedures for emergency situations such as a fire or an active shooter.

Good workplace safety policies help prevent accidents in your workplace. They help employees know how to safely perform their jobs and know what to do in the case of an emergency.

Two construction workers review an SOP manual while on the job site.

4. Misconduct

Ultimately, corporate policies help your employees know what they can expect from the company and what the company expects from them.

Along with laying out acceptable behavior, policies should clearly state what behavior will not be tolerated.

The definition of misconduct will differ depending on your organization and work culture. For example, using profanity may be highly inappropriate in some workplace settings, but acceptable in others. But workplace misconduct often includes things such as:

  • Theft or fraud
  • Damaging company property
  • Sharing company secrets
  • Relationships between managers and lower-level employees
  • Unscheduled absences or chronic lateness
  • Vulgar language or inappropriate jokes

Misconduct policies may include both workplace behavior and non-workplace incidents. For example, the policy may state that an employee can be terminated for gross misconduct on social media.

In any case, these policies should include what disciplinary steps will be taken when an employee breaks the rules and what behavior will result in termination.

Having these expectations in writing will help protect your company against disgruntled employees and wrongful termination lawsuits.

5. Employee attendance and punctuality

Just as it’s important to communicate guidelines for time off, it’s also important to set clear expectations for everyday work attendance.

When are employees expected to show up and leave? Who should employees alert if they are running late for work? What are the consequences for repeated tardiness?

Laying these things out in writing helps employees know how to meet expectations.

Again, the specifics of attendance will differ between organizations. Some companies run on shifts, while others adopt flexible scheduling policies.

But in any case, attendance policies should clearly lay out what’s expected of the staff and what consequences there are for violating the policies.

6. Use of Technology

In the era of social media and constant connectivity, it’s important to outline expectations for how your employees use technology.

To protect your organization against liability, these policies should expressly prohibit workers from conducting illegal activities on company computers or devices connected to the company network.

A technology use policy may also cover areas such as:

  • Personal use of company computers
  • Use of personal devices during work hours 
  • Password and firewall requirements
  • Data security measures
  • Bring your own device policies
  • Consequences for misuse

Use of technology policies may also include guidelines for how employees use social media both in and outside of work, as negative or controversial posts from employees can impact your company’s reputation.

7. Organizational Structure

No matter the size of your organization, one of the company policies you need is a chart outlining your organizational structure.

This chart should clearly illustrate who manages who and should be openly accessible to anyone in the company.

An organizational chart makes it clear how the management system works and who should report to who. It can help simplify complex systems. And it can also clear up authority in the case of interpersonal issues or clashing leadership.

What policies should a company have? Is not always an easy question to answer. But as you create your list of company policies, make sure to include the seven listed above.

And, as you craft these and other important company policies, remember that policies should be living, changing documents.

Use a policy management software like PowerDMS to collaborate on policy updates, disseminate policies to employees and track electronic signatures to make sure you protect both your employees and your company.

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