As we wrote in our post What is a policy vs. a procedure? well-written policies promote compliance, streamline internal processes, and limit liability risks. Workplace 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.
This list of common company policies can differ depending on your industry and organization, but there are 10 essential policies that no company can do without, no matter your industry. (If you'd like industry-specific policies, visit this page.)
As you create, revise, or update your employee handbook, here are 10 workplace policies every business should have.
No list of company policies would be complete without an anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policy. It’s necessary to limit your organization’s liability, which makes it one of the key types of employment policies.
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.
Protecting your organization
Clear, thorough policies and training can 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.
For more information, read our article 3 keys to an effective sexual harassment policy.
2. Social Media
Almost three in four Americans use social media, and it’s particularly popular among younger generations. Because it is so commonly used, employers need to be proactive in creating clear guidelines for employees.
Our article Six elements of a good social media policy explores this in more depth, but the key aspects are worth considering are:
- What access you allow while on the job
- How you create and approve content to be posted to company accounts
- How you protect confidential information
- What is appropriate and inappropriate behavior.
If left unchecked, social media could lead to confidential information unintentionally being shared online, or an employee could share something that reflects poorly on your organization. By creating clear guidelines and expectations, you set up your employees to know what is and isn’t acceptable. That’s what makes it one of our policies every business should have.
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. Read more about this in our article How to develop workplace safety policies and procedures.
4. Code of Conduct
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.
To read more about this essential type of workplace policy, review our article Code of Conduct Policy.
5. Conflict of Interest
A conflict of interest is a situation in which the personal interests of employees, board members, or contractors might act against the interest of the organization they work for. These situations typically benefit the individual but put the company at a disadvantage.
This often appears as an effort to undermine a company, and it breaks the trust inherent in the employer-employee relationship.
By creating a conflict of interest policy, you can proactively create clear guidelines for employees or others acting on behalf of your organization. Such a policy governs any incidents in which an employee acts against the company’s best interest.
This protects your organization by teaching employees what they should and shouldn’t do, and it also creates clear consequences for anyone who violates these rules. This makes it one of the critical workplace policies.
If you’d like to learn more about conflict of interest policies, read our article Why you need a conflict of interest policy.
6. BYOD Policy
In the era when more than half of employees use their personal devices while at work, it’s important to outline expectations for how your employees use technology.
Bring your own device (BYOD) policies can be beneficial for employers because it saves on technology costs, if employees are supplying their own devices. Studies also have found that BYOD can lead to increased productivity.
But it also comes with challenges, including the task of securing those devices and making sure that employees don’t use their devices for personal reasons during work hours. To protect your organization against liability, a BYOD policy should expressly prohibit workers from conducting illegal activities while connected to the company network.
To read up more on the topic, view our article, BYOD Policy Best Practices.
7. Information Security
Cyber attacks are increasing by 400 percent each year, and data breaches can cost businesses millions of dollars in ransom payments.
This looming threat makes an information security policy one of the workplace policies you need to have on the books to protect your operation. Information security is the effort to protect your organization’s information, which includes controlling access and preventing unauthorized access or leaking.
An information security policy should cover all the ways in which you protect your information, such as using passwords, two-factor authentication, and other digital protection measures. It also covers the training efforts you make to prepare your employees for the threats that will come.
You can read more about how to protect yourself from cybersecurity threats in our article, How to develop an effective information security policy.
8. Acceptable Use
Much of work today happens online, whether on computers or mobile devices. Because employees spend so much time online, it’s possible they will slip up and do something they shouldn’t and use technology in an inappropriate way.
An acceptable use policy dictates how people use websites, networks, or internet services.
The policy could prohibit users from uploading or downloading certain types of files, harassing others, or leaking company information. Inappropriate behavior is often a source of cyber breaches, making it all the more important to control.
It’s important for an organization because it lets employees know what illegal or inappropriate behavior won’t be allowed on the job. That sets clear expectations and makes it easier to maintain accountability.
To learn more about this topic, check out our article, Updating your acceptable use policy.
9. Mobile Device Management
Nearly everyone has a smartphone, and most people now use a smartphone for their work. On top of that, there are a variety of other mobile devices used in the workplace, including laptops, tablets, e-readers, and wearable tech.
A mobile device management policy establishes how employees should use mobile technology on the job, and how you will protect those devices from cybersecurity threats. That encompasses all of your employees (including full- and part-time staff and contractors), and all of the devices that they use.
This is an important policy because of how ubiquitous mobile devices are, and how prone they are to being exploited in a cyber attack.
You can learn more about this topic in our article Mobile device management policy.
10. Workplace Tobacco Use
While tobacco use has decreased dramatically, still more than 10 percent of adults smoke. Which means that employers are likely to have at least some smokers among their workforce.
Tobacco use is damaging to those who use it, but secondhand smoke is also a danger to other employees. Because of this, tobacco use is regulated in more than half of states, and the use of it is banned by many industries. Having a tobacco policy among your workplace policies is essential to protect yourself from liability.
A workplace tobacco policy creates clear rules and guidelines, so that workers who use tobacco products know where and when they can do so. And it also gives non-smoking employees the assurance they will be protected.
To learn more about this, read our article, Workplace tobacco policy.
Other important policies
Leave and Time-Off Benefits
Vacation and leave is one of the most important company policies to include in your handbook.
Employees want and need 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.
Employee Attendance and Punctuality
As remote work options become more and more ubiquitous, it’s 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? Do remote workers need to track their time? What system is used for time tracking?
Answering these questions 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.
Also called a telecommuting or work from home policy, a remote work policy is increasingly important in the pandemic and post-pandemic eras.
Remote work is a matter of safety and convenience. As COVID variants continue to spread, some employees don’t feel safe working in an office with coworkers who may or may not be vaccinated.
Though most schools are back in session, students can easily contract or be in proximity to a classmate who contracted COVID. In these situations, entire classrooms have to quarantine, meaning the kids are back at home. So throughout the year, employees may need the flexibility to work from home.
When developing your remote work policy, you should consider the following questions:
- Who does it apply to? It’s important to define eligibility and duration, as differing employee responsibilities may require different rules.
- What tools and technology will your organization provide? Will employees be given a home-office stipend?
- Will you require employees to track their time on tasks/projects, and if so, what software will you use?
- How will you disseminate and track new and updated policies and procedures?
- How will you capture and track signatures, training, and tests on those policies?
- If in-office work days are required with any regularity, are there any exceptions to the rule (i.e. being home with children who are forced to quarantine)?
A remote work policy answers these questions and communicates expectations to employees working from home, whether full- or part-time. The more clearly written and comprehensive it is, the better it will set expectations and protect your company.
As you write or update your remote work policy, remember to consult your legal team to avoid any legal issues down the road.
As you consider this list of policies every company should have in writing, it can be challenging to know what exactly to prioritize as you consider all the possibilities. We hope this article has shown you the necessity of these 10 workplace policies in creating a healthy and secure place of business. Learn more about writing policies in this comprehensive article.
It’s also important to remember that creating these policies is only the starting point. They’ll only be effective if you put them to use, which means getting employees to adopt them and updating policies as your needs change. This way, they become a living part of your organization.
A policy management software like PowerDMS can help your team collaborate on policy updates, disseminate policies to employees, and track electronic signatures to make sure you protect both your employees and your company. It also offers mobile solutions so that your employees can access important policies and procedures, like the 10 we covered above, any time, anywhere.