We all understand the need to have clear compliance policies for things such as hours of service and drug and alcohol use, but there is also a need to have written policy statements for topics such as workplace health and safety compliance, environmental protection, labor standards, employee benefits, records retention, and employment and company governance principles.
Once all of the relevant subjects have been addressed and put into written form, they need to be condensed into an employee handbook or manual, which is then distributed to everybody in the company. Employees need to know what their employer’s policies are as well as their rights under those policies.
From this point on, every employee in the company must read the handbook, agree to abide by the policies and sign an acknowledgement form, which is then placed in their personnel file. For policies to be legally binding and defensible, no one can be exempted from this acknowledgement. This includes senior management.
Comply with the law
What constitutes a good business policy? First of all, a policy must have solid legal standing. It must be formulated and written in compliance with all applicable federal, state and local laws. Second, it cannot be ambiguous. Policies should clearly state what is expected of an employee and leave no room for interpretations that are at variance with the policy’s intent. Avoid legal terms and jargon.
If the policy is intended to describe a legal requirement, then have it translated from “legalese” to plain English. If your business employs individuals whose primary language is not English, you should consider having copies of the handbook available in other languages. It is imperative that you make every effort to have your policies fully understood by every employee. If not, you may find yourself with a serious legal problem.
Building a policy manual
There are a number of ways to proceed in building a company’s policy manual. Larger, more
sophisticated organizations may be able to complete the task in-house by utilizing its human
resources, safety, compliance and legal staffs. For smaller organizations, the job becomes more challenging.
First, there are companies that sell so-called “cookie cutter” policy manual templates. These companies claim their products can be dropped into an organization and will do the job. The problem with this approach is that templates seldom cover all of the critical policy areas that a particular company may need. Nor is there any assurance that a purchased template will meet the legal tests for any one state or local jurisdiction.
The next and what I believe to be better approach is to hire a professional consultant to come to your company and assess your needs. A professional consultant will develop a company-specific policy program and manual for you. Once completed, the manual needs to be reviewed by a qualified attorney to make certain that it meets all applicable legal standards. This relatively modest expense can literally save your business from ruin.
Review and update
Once your policies have been developed and your employees have been fully informed and agree to comply with them, there is still one last thing to do. All policy manuals need to be considered “living documents.” This means that from time to time, as your business operations or laws change, policies will need to be reviewed and updated. A policy does no good if it no longer applies to your current business conditions or if it is no longer legally valid.
If you don’t have documented policies in your company, then it’s now time to get the job done.
Remember, the business you save will be your own.