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Tips for Clearly Documenting HR Policies

Even if your company has only a handful of employees, keeping your basic procedures and policies well documented is always a good business strategy. Whatever effort may be required to get basic company information in print and on a password-protected part of your intranet can save you time and grief down the road. The following list gives advice for creating a procedures manual:

  • Separate company policies from job-specific procedures. Try to make a distinction in your employee manual between policies that apply to everyone in the company (general hours, payroll, vacation, and so on) and procedures that relate specifically to how people do their individual jobs.

  • Keep it simple. Employee manuals don’t need to be literary works, but they do need to be clear and concise. Use plain English and try to avoid overly formal, bureaucratic wording and phrasing. You may want to consider hiring a professional writer to polish your final draft.

  • Pay attention to legalities. Here’s some scary news: Anything that you put in writing about your company’s policies or procedures automatically becomes a legal document, and someone may use it against you in a wrongful dismissal suit. Play things safe. Make sure that an expert in employment law reviews the manual before you publish it.

  • Control the distribution. Every employee who receives a manual should sign a document that acknowledges his receipt of the manual and that he understands its contents. Keep the signed form in the employee’s personnel file. You may need it in the event of a disciplinary proceeding or lawsuit.

Knowing what to include

Most policies and procedures manuals follow the same general format. What differs from one company to the next are the specifics. The following list gives you a look at a typical table of contents for a policies and procedures manual:

  • Welcome statement by CEO

  • Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) policy statement (including sexual and other forms of harassment)

  • Company history and overview

  • Employment at-will (if applicable)

  • Company mission statement and values

  • Essential company rules, such as work hours, business ethics, smoking, dress code, sick days, and so on

  • Performance appraisal procedures

  • Disciplinary procedures (you must have a lawyer carefully review this section)

  • Health, safety, and security rules and procedures, including a fire-exit map

  • Benefit, pension, and deferred-income programs

  • Parking and transportation information, including maps

Playing it safe

Whatever else your employee manual does, make sure that it doesn’t do any of the following:

  • Make promises you can’t keep

  • Publish procedures you don’t follow or can’t enforce

  • Say anything that someone may construe as discriminatory

  • Use the phrase “termination for just cause” without specifying what you mean

One last piece of advice: Always include a disclaimer that emphasizes that the manual is a general source of information and not for anyone to construe as a binding employment contract.

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