Why are policies important?

HR policies serve several important functions, enabling you to:

  • Communicate values and expectations for how people do things at your organization.
  • Keep your organization in compliance with legislation and protect it against employment claims.
  • Document and implement best practices appropriate for your organization.
  • Support fair, transparent treatment of your staff and/or volunteers.
  • Help your organization make decisions that are consistent, uniform, and predictable.
  • Offer new and existing employees and/or volunteers guidelines for appropriate behaviour in your organization.

What’s the difference between a policy and a procedure?

A policy is a formal statement of a principle or rule that members of an organization must follow. It addresses an issue(s) that is important to the organization's mission or operation. It's a set of rules meant to guide workers in their work.

A procedure tells members of the organization how to implement a policy, typically in the form of a step-by-step document.

Generally, policies change less often than procedures, which usually go through continuous improvement.

Establishing the need for a policy

It's time to develop a policy when:

  • There is legislation that expressly requires an organization to have a policy in place.
  • There is legislation that does not expressly require an organization to 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 (such as a health and safety policy).
  • There is inconsistency in how employees behave, managers make decisions, and/or your organization would like to implement practices that are fair and transparent. Examples include reimbursement of expenses and performance management.
  • There is significant confusion about certain organizational areas or how things are done, and the organization would benefit from a policy.

You should not take the decision to make a policy lightly because:

  • Policies are developed for the many, not the few. When you develop and implement a policy, you establish 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 the manager’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 implemented and part of your organization's culture and ways of working.
  • You want to ensure that any policies you bring into the organization address a real need, align with your company values, and reflect how work should be done. You also need to ensure managers have the skills and resources to implement and monitor the policy.

Common policy areas

Organizations commonly have written policies in the following areas:

Health and safety at work

  • Health and safety
  • Accident reporting
  • Alcohol and drug use policy
  • Workplace violence
  • Paid and unpaid time off
  • Vacation
  • Unpaid leave
  • Sick leave
  • Maternity and parental leave
  • Jury duty
  • Family leave
  • Bereavement and compassionate leave

Hours of work and working conditions

  • Attendance
  • Hours of work
  • Overtime
  • Working conditions
  • Remote work
  • Flexible work arrangements


  • Benefits and eligibility
  • Short term disability, long term disability

Performance management and progressive discipline

  • Learning and development
  • Performance management
  • Progressive discipline
  • Termination

Employee and labour relations

  • Code of conduct
  • Conflict of interest
  • Formal complaint process
  • Grievance/conflict resolution
  • Discrimination and harassment/respectful workplace
  • Equity, diversity and inclusion

General policies

  • Confidentiality and privacy
  • Recruitment
  • Compensation
  • Management of employee information
  • Use of company equipment and networks

Important: Be sure to review relevant federal and provincial employment legislation to understand the required policies for compliance in your jurisdiction.

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