Drafting an HR policy

What to include in an HR policy

A policy should include the following sections:

Purpose
The purpose sets out what the policy intends to do and/or the goal of the policy. For example, a health and safety policy may aim to ensure a safe and healthy workplace for all workers in compliance with the relevant health and safety legislation.
Scope
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.
Statement
The statement is the actual rule or standard the policy needs to communicate.
Responsibilities
Outline the responsibilities of the board, management, and staff in regard to the policy and who is responsible for developing, maintaining, monitoring, and implementing the policy.
If there are consequences for not following the policy, such as discipline measures, be sure to mention them. For example, "Failure to comply with this policy could result in disciplinary measures up to and including just cause for termination of your employment."
Definitions
Clearly define any terms used within the policy. If you include the terms in legislation related to the policy, be sure to use the definitions from the legislation. Examples include disability, prohibited grounds, discrimination, harassment, and workplace violence.
Questions
Identify the person or position employees can approach if they have questions.
References
Reference any other policies, documents, or legislation that support the interpretation of this policy.
Effective Date
Indicate the date the policy came into effect and the date of any revisions.
Review Date
Indicate the date the policy is due to be reviewed. This will vary based upon the policy.
Approval
Indicate who approved the policy and the date of approval (for example, the board, the human resources policy committee, the executive director).

Tips for drafting an HR policy

When writing 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's intended.
  • Check that the content and wording are unbiased and encourage 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.
  • 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."
  • There are a few situations where you want to be clear that the standard set by the policy will apply in all situations. For example, in a violence policy, state "violence at work will not be tolerated under any circumstances."
  • If using a sample policy or draft, adjust the policy for your specific workplace.

Write procedures associated with the policy

Sometimes policies 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 decide that you will develop a procedure, include a statement that it's intended as a guide only.

Important: Some legislation specifically requires procedures to be developed, so be aware of the legislative requirements that govern your organization.

Examples:

  • 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.

Review the policy with key stakeholders

When possible, it's good practice to ask a representative group of managers and employees to review the policy. For some policies, you may also want to involve additional stakeholders, such as volunteers or board directors.

Manager review

Ask managers:

  • 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?
  • Are the content and wording unbiased?
  • What training or information would you need to carry out your responsibilities as outlined in the policy? What about your staff?
  • What issues or concerns could the implementation of this policy potentially raise among employees and stakeholders?

Employee review

Sometimes employees are asked to provide feedback in the creation of a procedure. If this is the case in your organization, ask your employees:

  • What is your understanding of your responsibilities and the organization's expectations as outlined in the policy?
  • Are the content and wording unbiased?
  • What training or information would you need to carry out your responsibilities as outlined in the policy?
  • What issues or concerns could the implementation of this policy potentially raise among employees and stakeholders?

Legal review

This step may not apply to all policies. A lawyer specializing in employment law should review complex policies, such as discipline, grievance, and policies required by legislation. 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.

Approving an HR policy

If your board is responsible for final policy approval, it's often done with a formal, recorded motion. Tell the board why you need the policy and the steps you took to develop it. After you have the board approval, add the date of approval to the policy.

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