Lessons and stories about business operations related to managing, leading, and developing people.

Every Employee Policy You Need to Put in Place, ASAP

Every Employee Policy You Need to Put in Place, ASAP

Now that we’ve talked about everything you want to know about PTO and vacation policies, let’s tackle the other big policy questions you might have. If you’re running your company, or leading an HR team — or even if you’re a one person show — you’ll want to ensure that all of your policies are up to date. In doing so, you’ll protect yourself, your organization, and your fellow employees from unnecessary stress, profit losses, personal injury, and lawsuits.

But which policies do you need to draft up right away, and how often should they be updated? You might think that having formal policies is about as archaic as asking candidates if they know how to use email. But look a little deeper and you’ll see that not having these basic policies in place can often leave behavioral expectations too open-ended, and leave you in a risky position as an employer. Let’s review how you should approach the big ones.

Whose job is it anyway?

The first question you might be asking — after wondering why you’d need these company policies — is who’s responsible for creating and maintaining them in the first place? The short answer is company CEOs, founders, and leaders, in collaboration with HR professionals. That said, there are a number of factors to consider: the size of your team, company culture, and your industry. Most company founders have little or no knowledge about HR policies, and may choose to outsource this work to an HR professional, internal or external. But, leaders set the tone in culture and should absolutely inform what policies look and feel like, this cannot be outsourced to anyone.

Generally speaking, employees shouldn’t be actively involved in policy setting, but depending on how open your culture is, and how big your company is, they may be surveyed about what they value. Of course, no one should be asking their employees if a harassment policy is a good idea, but you might want to know how your employees feel about using social media, for example.

The 5 policies every company needs to have

In addition to a time off/ vacation policy, there are 5 key policies you’ll want to implement right away, if you haven’t already. Make sure they are readily available for all employees, old and new, and review them on an as-needed basis, or when there are changes to the law or your business. While these policies are not legally mandated, you are held liable for the implications that may come from not having them. At the end of the day, decided which policies you should have comes down to a conversation with yourself about your willingness to accept a certain level of risk.


Internet Policy

What is it?

An internet policy includes a range of rules related to the acceptable use of internet, email, and social media while working.

Depending on your industry, you might encourage or discourage the use of social media, and having a policy can help communicate how you want employees to act. For example, if you’re a bank, you may not want your accounting staff tweeting, but if you’re a video ad network, you might be totally ok with tweets that promote your business and the social savviness of your workforce.

Ultimately, your internet policy should clearly communicate that while your employees are at work, they are expected to be focused on work — and not shopping on eBay for shoes. Take stock of your workforce before sitting down to write your internet policy to decide how you’ll position expectations. Use language that speaks to employees on the level, don’t dumb things down, but also be sure not to leave important rules open to interpretation.

Who needs it?

Everyone.

What are the implications of not having one?

Having this policy ensures that you have a fallback if one of your employees says or does something inappropriate such as gambling, browsing porn sites, or pre-announcing your still-confidential funding news. Without a policy, you have nothing to enforce. Rather than blacklisting sites, create a sensible policy that treats your employees like the adults that they are.


Email Policy

What is it?

A subsection of your internet policy and tied to other harassment and appropriate conduct policies, an email policy dictates how employees can and cannot use their professional email.

An email policy should clearly lay out what your company deems inappropriate, for example: sending discriminatory “jokes,” images that offend a race or religion, and nudity over company email. This policy should also cover company email being used for outside business ventures, mail campaigns, or company contact lists. Your email policy should include language that specifies that company time should be spent on work, and that in addition to using professional email appropriately, employees should also be reasonable when it comes to accessing personal email during work hours. Of course, if you work in an industry where employees have personal laptops and access to the internet all day long, it’s unreasonable to expect that no one will check their personal email, But, having some clear boundaries in writing can remind employees that personal communication should be limited at work because, trust us, some people will need reminding.

Who needs it?

Everyone.

What are the implications of not having one?

The implications of not having an email policy are similar to the ones related to not having an internet policy: without one, your business is liable for anything your employee may send from their company email address.


Social Media Policy

What is it?

A social media policy is a subsection of your internet policy and lays out how and if employees can use social media during work hours.

A social media policy is complex because it introduces a fine line: some companies might want employees to actively promote their business on social media, but what happens if said employees become unhappy at work and start talking negatively about their employer? You’ll want to also be careful about encouraging employees to use social media by establishing clear guidelines around what they shouldn’t share, for example confidential information, competitive information, or photos of fellow employees.

Who needs it?

Everyone.

What are the implications of not having one?

As with internet and email policies, not having a social media policy leaves you open to liability. Not having a policy could result in potentially harmful information leaks related to your company, product, or individual employees that could lead to lawsuits. In certain industries, the use of social media for the purpose of work is much more prevalent, in which case you’ll want to clearly define how you want employees to use social media. In other industries, your policy should focus more squarely on the liability of using social media, and provide some parameters around how employees should handle questions from would-be employees, customers, and competitors, should they be engaged on a social media channel.


Drug and Alcohol Policy

What is it?

A drug and alcohol policy sets out whether your workplace is drug and alcohol free and whether you have mandatory pre-employment drug testing as well as the circumstances around additional drug testing, such as after a safety incident or substantiated reports of behavior consistent with drug use in the workplace. Your drug and alcohol policy should also lay out what sort of alcohol consumption is consistent with business needs or at company events.

You might think that a progressive company may not need a drug and alcohol policy, and should rely on the good judgement of its employees but take note: if you’re hosting an event where alcohol is served, you are responsible for your guests getting home safely, among other things. This goes for the safety of employees working for a company that has an office bar. Your drug and alcohol policy will differ depending on state laws but should clearly establish rules related to drug and alcohol use in your business, in company vehicles, and at company-hosted social events.

Consider a number of cultural factors when coming up with your company’s drug and alcohol policy. For example, if you work in a hospital setting, it’s critical that employees never come to work under the influence. However, if you’re in the advertising business, happy hour might be a common business meeting destination. Tailor your policy to your environment, your people, and your willingness to accept some level of risk in exchange for certain business objectives.

Who needs it?

Everyone.

What are the implications of not having one?

Without a drug and alcohol policy, you’ll have no behavioral standards/expectations to enforce in the event of performance or behavioral issues.

There’s a strong interplay between this policy and a harassment policy, which we’ll talk about next. Alcohol is known to lessen inhibitions and changes good thinking and better judgement, which could lead to harassment. As such, you might not only be liable for employees drinking, but for any harassment that might ensue.


Harassment Policy

What is it?

A harassment policy clearly defines what is and is not appropriate treatment of a fellow employee. In addition to having a good written policy, you’ll want to invest in training your managers and educating your entire staff about what it means.

Who needs it? (and am I legally required to have one)

Under federal laws, employers are not legally required to have a harassment policy in place (this is governed by the EEOC). However, as an employer, you have substantial liability should harassment occur in your workplace. Without a harassment policy in place, the liability is even greater should a complaint be made.

It’s good risk management to:

  • Have a harassment policy
  • Educate your leaders and employees about it
  • Ensure that all new employees are educated as part of their onboarding
  • Ensure that newly promoted leaders are educated on their responsibilities.

Although you are not legally required to have a harassment policy, if your business employs 15 or more employees, you are required to post the “EEO is the Law” poster. And remember, state laws may impose stricter obligations than federal laws. For example, in California, all employers are required to post the Department of Fair Employment and Housing’s poster “California Law Prohibits Workplace Discrimination and Harassment” (DFEH-162) and some states do require employers to have a written policy so it’s important you consult with an HR professional or State Department of Labor — and possibly a lawyer.

What are the implications of not having one?

If an employee harasses another employee at your company, the liability for a company is very clear: you’re responsible. As an employer, it’s your duty to create a safe workplace for your employees that is free from discrimination and harassment. So get to know the law, and create a detailed policy that incorporates anything that could be considered harassment, including information about protected classes. Note that there are both federal and, in many cases, stricter state laws governing harassment and liability in the workplace.

Do I need a lawyer to write these policies?

While you can find examples of many policies on federal or state government websites (EEOC, DOL), as well as on HR and industry sites, it’s always a good idea to work with a lawyer who can review what you’ve written. At a minimum, make sure that an experienced HR practitioner is drafting your policy, but always, always have a lawyer sign off on the final draft.

What kinds of policies do millennial workers expect?

Millennial workers already represent ⅓ of the U.S. workforce, and by 2025, they’ll make up 75 percent of the global workforce. So creating policies with this group in mind makes a lot of sense. But what’s more relevant than creating policies based on age groups is taking your industry into consideration. Highly skilled knowledge workers tend to respond well to flexible policies that help everyone understand how they can best work together whereas hourly employees in semi-skilled roles or in safety-sensitive industries expect and benefit from detailed policies that clearly draw lines between what’s ok and no ok in their work environment.

How often should I review our policies?

You should review your policies every five years or so, as well as anytime there are changes to the law, or major changes in your workforce. You should certainly review and update your policies if your company is acquired, or acquires another company.

When you’re reviewing policies or drawing up new ones, start by accessing your market, financial, and people risk. Then ask yourself, what level of risk am I willing to take on? If the answer is ‘minimal’ across all of these areas, invest some serious time and energy into drawing up policies that address every possible area of liability. And don’t just scoff at the idea of formal policies — even if you work in a very progressive environment. There’s no reason to dumb down policies or talk down to your employees: communicate honestly and thoughtfully, but don’t forget the details. Having good policies in place helps everyone — both employers and employees — come to work with more confidence.

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