Policies are to a company what rules are to the players of a game. They are the framework and constraints within which everyone can strive for individual and collective success. Besides, for anyone who has watched a few kids playing together it’s pretty obvious why rules are important. And why it’s a good idea to write them down.
Far too many companies, especially small businesses, neglect to get the basics down in writing early enough. There’s a tendency to believe that “our company doesn’t need them” and that spoken instructions will suffice.
As soon as a company starts growing the limits of this approach become obvious. Putting company policies down in writing makes them official. Employees know what the company takes seriously and how they can keep up-to-date with their rights and responsibilities. People work better when they know where they stand.
No-one wants to focus on the negative but disputes can and will arise. Having the ground rules established in the clearest and simplest terms helps to limit the damage when they do. And in the instance that disputes lead to court, written policies can be essential in ensuring a swift and fair outcome.
It’s not all (or even primarily) about firefighting though. Having the beginnings of a company handbook can help you explain to current and future hires what’s special about your company — as the games company Valve have done so well. Still not sure where to get started? Here’s five company policies that you should put in writing today.
- Workplace Health and Safety
Provisions for occupational safety are a necessity for everyone who owns or runs a business. It’s imperative that your employees work within a healthy and safe workplace. Accidents and unsafe conditions can land you in court. If you also count the damage to reputation and loss of faith from employees, complacency when it comes to safety may be the biggest mistake you’ll ever make. A written policy shows that you take the matter seriously. This is about more than a few fire extinguishers. A workplace safety policy will help you to think systematically.
- Equal Opportunity Policy
Being an equal opportunity employer is mandated by law in most countries. This equal opportunity policy prohibits any company from discriminating against employees or job applicants on the basis of a “protected characteristic” (gender, age, race etc.). It is fundamental for non-discrimination, anti-harassment, workplace violence and diversity policies. It can also help your business for two reasons: first, it expands the pool of people from which to choose the best applicant for any job and secondly, it creates a fair environment for employees to co-exist, work and thrive in. Putting it in writing will send the message to everyone that equal opportunity is a reality at your company.
- Employee Code of Conduct Policy
All employers have expectations from their employees and a straightforward code of conduct can make this clear. Communicating these expectations clearly is a prerequisite for compliance. Even if an employee has the best of intentions and even if some things are simple enough to be expected (like completing job duties), misunderstandings may still occur. One way to keep them to a minimum is to have a written code of conduct that will include important elements like attendance or even use of social media. Rules must be clear and accessible. Employees can consult them whenever they are unsure of what constitutes acceptable behavior. It also means that when someone’s employment has to be terminated there’s a proper record in place.
- Leave of Absence Policy
For various reasons ranging from health issues to vacation plans, employees may occasionally require to be absent from work. Whether it is mandated by law or not, it is always advantageous to let your employees know beforehand what benefits you offer. Different kinds of leave (sick leave, Paid Time Off, maternity leave, parental leave etc.) are separate entities and may require different treatment. Having all this in writing, alongside rules that are necessary to regulate leave taking, is the only way to adequately inform employees.
- Employee Disciplinary Action Policy
Occasionally problems will arise at work and dealing with them is much easier with a clear disciplinary policy in place. Employees must know how and under what circumstances they will be disciplined. A standardized step-by-step process will help you ensure fair and appropriate treatment, even if you don’t formally disclose the entire procedure. It will also show that you are an employer who does not tolerate serious violations but also values remedial actions in the case of minor offences. Take care though to consult a lawyer to ensure that the procedures you have in place are lawful.
Workable also offers a broad range of additional company policy templates that you can customize for your own company.