HR Policies & Employment Legislation
Developing HR Policies
This section gives practical information to organizations on how to develop HR policies and procedures. The guide is designed for small nonprofits. It will be useful to those who are just beginning to develop policies and those who are reviewing and updating existing policies. Tools you will find in this section include a Policy Template, a Guide to Developing an Employee Handbook, and a template Statement of Understanding.
It covers the following topics:
Why policies are importantPolicies serve several important functions:
- Communicate values and expectations for how things are done at your organization
- Keep the organization in compliance with legislation and provide protection against employment claims
- Document and implement best practices appropriate to the organization
- Support consistent treatment of staff, fairness and transparency
- Help management to make decisions that are consistent, uniform and predictable
- Protect individuals and the organization from the pressures of expediency
Defining policy and procedure
A policy is a formal statement of a principle or rule that members of an organization must follow. Each policy addresses an issue important to the organization's mission or operations.
A procedure tells members of the organization how to carry out or implement a policy. Policy is the "what" and the procedure is the "how to".
Policies are written as statements or rules. Procedures are written as instructions, in logical steps.
Steps in Policy Development
Your workplace is unique and therefore you may need to develop policies very specific to your organization and type of work, for which there are no templates or benchmarks. Typically, policy development will follow the following steps:
- Step 1: Establish need for a policy
- Step 2: Develop policy content
- Step 3: Draft the policy
- Step 4: Write the procedure
- Step 5: Review of the policy by key parties
- Step 6: Approve the policy
- Step 7: Implement the policy
- Step 8: Policy review and update
- Step 9: Communication of changes to the policy
STEP 1: Establish need for a policy
In its simplest form, a policy is a written record of a workplace rule.
It is time to develop a policy when:
- There is legislation that expressly requires an organization has a policy in place
- There is legislation that does not expressly require an organization have a policy, but the regulations and steps to be followed are tightly defined and a policy will help to ensure the organization is in compliance
- There is inconsistency in how employees behave or managers make decisions that is negatively impacting the work environment or accomplishment of business
- There is significant confusion about certain areas of the business or how things are done and the organization would benefit from a policy
Making the decision to develop a new policy should not be taken lightly:
- Policies are developed for the many, not the few – when you bring a policy into force you are establishing a standard that will apply broadly across the organization - not just to a few individuals who may be causing problems
- A policy creates a rule or standard to be followed consistently and reduces management’s flexibility to treat each situation as unique
- Poorly written and implemented policies can harm rather than protect your organization
- It can be difficult to change policies once they have been implemented and become part of your organization’s culture and ways of working
You want to be sure that any policies you bring into the organization address a real need and are in line with what your company values and how work should be accomplished. You also need to ensure managers have the skills and resources to be able to implement and monitor the policy.
Areas where policies are commonly established:
Be sure to review relevant federal and provincial employment legislation to understand the policies that are required for compliance in your jurisdiction. Organizations commonly have written policies in the following areas:
- Code of Conduct
- Conflict of Interest
- Working conditions
- Hours of Operations
- Termination (Voluntary and Involuntary)
- Performance Management
- Learning and development
- Benefits and Eligibility
- Employee Information
- Bereavement Leave
- Compassionate Leave
- Sick Leave, Short Term Disability, Long Term Disability
- Maternity, Parental, and Adoption Leave
- Unpaid Leave
- Jury Duty
- Family Leave
- Grievance/Conflict Resolution
- Formal complaint process
- Discrimination and Harassment/Respectful Workplace
- Health and Safety
- Accident Reporting
- Workplace Violence
- Alcohol and Drug Use Policy
- Use of Company Equipment
- General policy on the review and update of organization policies
STEP 2: Develop policy content
For policies required by legislation, much of the policy content may be driven by the requirements of the legislation.
It is not feasible to review all the possible legislation. Therefore, you need to be aware of the legislation that applies in your jurisdiction and area of work. At minimum, consider the following:
Organizations also need to be aware of how legislation may periodically be applicable to their workplace, such as provisions for releasing staff to vote on election day or legislation relevant to organizing a union.
Other legal considerations may be specific to your workplace. Consider:
Considering the following questions can help you shape a policy that is appropriate to your workplace and organization needs.
In developing the content of the policy it is good practice to consult with stakeholders, management, staff, and/or a member of the board. This will help to ensure you get buy in for the policy, address the right issues and have a full perspective. Identify and connect with comparable organizations that have developed a similar policy and could serve as benchmarks for best practice. Some parties may have a role at this stage when the content is being drafted; other parties might be better placed as reviewers after the content has been developed.
STEP 3: Draft the policy
A policy should include the following sections:
The purpose sets out what the policy intends to accomplish, or the goal of the policy. For example, a health and safety policy may have a purpose of ensuring a safe and healthy workplace for all workers in compliance with the relevant health and safety legislation.
The scope outlines to whom the policy applies. It may apply to all staff and workers, or differentiate based on level, location, employment status, or department. If the policy also applies to volunteers, contract workers and consultants doing work on behalf of the company be sure to identify this. The scope should also identify exceptions to the policy.
The statement is the actual rule or standard the policy needs to communicate.
Outline the responsibilities of the board, management and staff in regards to the policy as well as who is responsible for developing, maintaining, monitoring and implementing the policy.
If there are consequences for not complying with the policy (e.g., disciplinary), be sure to mention this. For example, “Failure to comply with this policy could result in disciplinary measure up to and including just cause for termination of your employment.”
Clearly define any terms used within the policy. If the terms are included in legislation that underpin the policy be sure to use the definitions from the legislation (e.g., disability, prohibited grounds, discrimination, harassment, workplace violence).
Identify the person or position employees can approach if they have questions.
Reference any other policies, documents or legislation that support the interpretation of this policy.
Indicate the date the policy came into effect and the date of any revisions.
Indicate the date the policy is due to be reviewed.
Indicate who approved the policy and the date of approval (e.g., the board, the human resources policy committee, the executive director).
Tips for drafting the policy
- Use straightforward clear language and avoid jargon and legal speak - you want the policy to speak directly to the people for whom it is intended
- Check that the content and wording is unbiased and encourages fair, consistent treatment.
- Use terms consistently and define any special terms
- Be sure that there is only one possible meaning to the standard or rule set by your policy
- It’s a good idea to consider a few “what if” scenarios and see if the policy still fits, keeping in mind that most policies will not, and should not, cover every possible circumstance
- For most policies you will want to allow for exceptions to the rule. Use terms like “generally”, “usually”, and “typically” and avoid terms like “always” and “never”
- Include a statement like “this is intended as a guide only”
- There are a few situations where you want to be absolutely clear that the standard set by the policy will apply in all situations. For example, in a violence policy you would want to say “violence at work will not be tolerated under any circumstances”
- If using a sample policy or draft, tailor the policy for your specific workplace
STEP 4: Write the procedure
Policies often have a related procedure, which may be a section of the policy or a separate document that the policy refers to. The procedure gives step-by-step instructions for carrying out the policy. If you determine that a procedure will be developed be sure to include a statement that it is intended as a guide only. Some legislation specifically requires procedures be developed so be aware of the legislative requirements that govern your organization.
- A vacation policy would say how much vacation employees are allowed. A related procedure would tell employees how to schedule their vacation time and get approval.
- A discrimination policy would communicate the organization’s stance on discrimination. A related procedure would tell an employee how they can raise a complaint and how it will be handled.
Sample Employee Handbooks, Policies and Procedures
Community Living Upper Ottawa Valley -
Human Resources Policies
County of Renfrew - Corporate Policies
Government of Newfoundland and Labrador - Human Resource Policy Manual
STEP 5: Review of the policy by key parties
It is good practice to ask a representative group of managers and employees to review the policy. For some policies you may also want to involve stakeholders.
- Do you have the skills and resources to be able to implement and monitor the policy?
- What is your understanding of different parties’ responsibilities as outlined in the policy?
- Is the content and wording unbiased?
- What training or information would you require to be able to carry out your responsibilities as outlined in the policy? What about your staff?
- What issues or concerns could implementation of this policy potentially raise among employees and stakeholders?
- What is you understanding of your responsibilities and the organization’s expectations as outlined in the policy?
- Is the content and wording unbiased?
- What training or information would you require to be able to carry out your responsibilities as outlined in the policy?
- What issues or concerns could implementation of this policy potentially raise among employees and stakeholders?
This step may not apply to all policies. Complex policies, such as discipline and grievance policies, and policies required by legislation should be reviewed by a lawyer that specializes in employment law. Ask them to check that the policy:
- Complies with employment standards and other federal and provincial legislation
- Is consistent with the terms of any collective agreements
STEP 6: Approve the policy
If your board is responsible for giving the final approval on policies, it is often done with a formal, recorded motion. Provide the board with information on why the policy is needed and the steps you took in developing the content for the policy. Consult with the board on the scheduled review date. After you have the board approval, add the date of approval to the policy.
STEP 7: Implement the policy
Ways to implement and communicate about policies
Employees, managers and key stakeholder must have access to up-to-date copies of the policies and procedures that are relevant to their role in the organization and be advised of and understand any new policies or changes to policies coming into effect.
When selecting methods to communicate policies consider:
- Will employees be able to easily access electronic copies or will they need hard copies?
- What concerns and issues are likely to be raised about the policy and how will they be dealt with? If concerns are likely to be significant an initial face to face communication through an information session or manager communication will be a more effective approach than an email.
- Does the policy provide enough information for managers and staff to be able to effectively implement and comply with the policy or will they need training or additional information?
The methods below are often used in combination to develop a strategy to ensure employees are aware of, understand and have the skills to implement and comply with the policies that underpin how they work.
An employee handbook describes the organization's policies and procedures. The handbook may also contain general information about the organization such as its priorities, the organization chart, the job classifications, whether positions are covered by a collective agreement and bargaining status for all groups of employees.
You may have separate handbooks for managers and staff or you may have one handbook that applies to both groups. For the employer, the handbook can form part of the documentation that your staff were made aware of the organization’s rules and standards and understand the consequences of not complying with the policies. Of course, this is dependent on your employees having received and understood the policies contained within the handbook so it is often a good idea to ask employees to sign a statement confirming this.
Benefits of having an employee handbook include:
- A comprehensive source for understanding the practices of the organization
- Useful for orienting employees
- Employees can independently find answers to their questions, supporting confidentiality
- Saves management time spent on clarifying expectations
- Helps others quickly understand your workplace practices
- Supports communication and accountability
- Allows you to tie in the broader context, such as the organization’s vision, objectives and values
A few points of caution:
- For the handbook to serve as valid documentation, it must be updated as policies are updated and changed. For this reason it is often a good idea to designate someone with this responsibility.
- Often a handbook will be written in a less formal style and include only summaries of each policy. In order to be able to rely on the handbook for documentation that your employees were made aware of the organization’s policies, it needs to include all the key points of the policy and reference where staff can access the full versions of the policies.
Since the policies and procedures and content of the handbook may change from time to time, include a statement that the employer has the right, in its sole discretion, to add, amend, or delete any policy or procedure it its handbook.
Sample Employee Handbook (DOC 181KB)
Personnel policy and procedures manuals
A manual includes more detailed collections of policy, procedures and guides, and is often used as a management tool for supervisory staff. Again, it is important that the manual is kept up to date with the most recent versions of the policies.
Intranet and shared Drives
Organizations can make their policies available to employees electronically either on an intranet or on shared drives. This is advantageous as employees can access the policy directly and old versions can easily be removed and replaced with updated versions.
Staff can easily be made aware of a new policy by e-mail. If providing a copy of the policy with the e-mail it is often better to provide the link to where the employee can access the policy rather than the actual policy so that it is always the most recent version of the policy being accessed.
Holding an information session is a good way to ensure that employees understand a new policy and have the opportunity to ask questions. It is particularly useful when concerns may be significant. In the session cover the following:
- Business decisions that led to the development of the policy
- Goal of the policy
- Process taken in developing the policy (e.g., consultation, research, benchmarking)
- How the new policy impacts employees and expectations
It is a good idea to keep a record of attendance for the session so you can follow up with anyone that was not able to attend, and have documentation that the policy was communicated.
Policy training sessions
Some provinces have legislation where employers are required to train employees on certain policies. Additionally, training sessions for managers are a good option for policies that are complicated or have extensive procedures, such as disciplinary, dispute resolutions and health and safety. When developing a policy training session include the same topics as you would for the information session plus the following:
- Training on the specific skills that are needed to implement the policy
- Specific procedures, guidance and resources available to managers and employees to help them implement the policy
- Clear expectations of behavior
- How the policy will monitored
- Any specific training requirements of the legislation if the training session is required
Statements of understanding
For important policies and possibly the employee handbook, you may want to have each employee sign a statement acknowledging that they have read, understand, and agree to abide by the policy. If you do this, you must have a plan for consistently ensuring that all current and new employees receive a policy orientation and sign a statement and that they do this every time there are significant updates to the policy. This approach is particularly recommended where contravening the policy could result in harm to the employee (e.g., requirements to wear protective equipment when working) or where disciplinary measures could result from not following the policy (e.g., harassment).
Your policies will underpin how much of your work is done. The principles should become integrated into how your company accomplishes its work. Use bulletin boards, newsletters, Internet home pages and emails to remind employees of key principles of the policies. Encourage managers to review the values that underpin your policies during the performance review.
Unilaterally introducing policies
As part of its management rights, the employer is permitted to introduce a unilateral policy without negotiating the terms of the policy with the bargaining agent for the employees. To do so, however, the policy must:
Collectively, the above six factors are colloquially called the KVP Rules.
STEP 8: Policy review and update
Your policies should be scheduled to be reviewed and updated regularly. A reasonable period between complete reviews is two to three years, although some provinces have legislation that requires certain polices be reviewed annually. Policies that are affected by changes to government legislation should be reviewed as soon as there are any changes to the law.
Your board may also set a timeframe for the review of policies. It can be helpful to provide the governing authority with a report on how policies are applied and any revisions that are being considered to the policies.
When reviewing policies consider the following:
Changes to policies will usually require it goes through your organization’s approval process.
STEP 9: Communication of changes to policies
Role of the board of directors in HR policy development
Boards can play a variety of roles in HR policy development. It is helpful to have the board clearly define the role they want to take in policy development, whether they want to be involved in shaping the content or be involved only at the approval stage. They may decide that only some fundamental policies require their review and other policies can be approved and managed by the executive director. Alternatively, a board may form an HR committee to write policies and procedures. The board may set a time frame for reviewing HR policies, or they may delegate this responsibility.
Next Section: Sample Policies on Common HR Topics