Implementing an HR policy

How to communicate a policy

Employees, managers, and board directors must have access to up-to-date copies of the policies and procedures 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 have easy access to 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 more effective than email.
  • Does the policy provide enough information for managers and staff to effectively implement and comply with it — or will they need training or additional information?

The following methods are often combined to develop a strategy to ensure employees are aware of, understand, and have the skills to implement and comply with the policies that inform their work.

Employee handbooks

An employee handbook describes the organization's policies and procedures. The handbook may also include general information about the organization such as its priorities, the organizational chart, the job classifications, whether positions are covered by a collective agreement, and bargaining status for all employees.

You may have separate handbooks for managers and staff or one handbook that applies to both groups.

The handbook can serve as documentation that your staff were made aware of the organization's rules and standards and understand the consequences of not complying with the policies. This would take the form of an acknowledgement statement added at the end of the handbook that employees would sign at regular intervals, generally every two years, or when important changes are made to the handbook contents.

The benefits of having an employee handbook include:

  • Providing a comprehensive source for understanding the practices of the organization.
  • Helping with employee onboarding.
  • Enabling employees to find answers to their questions, supporting confidentiality.
  • Helping others understand your workplace practices quickly.
  • Supporting communication, transparency, and accountability.
  • Allowing 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, you must update it whenever policies are updated and/or changed. For this reason, it's often a good idea to designate someone with this responsibility.
  • To rely on the handbook as documentation that your employees were made aware of the organization's policies, it needs to include all the key points of each policy (at minimum) and where each policy can be found in full.

Important: Include a statement that the employer has the right, in its sole discretion, to add, amend, or delete any policy or procedure in its handbook.

Personnel policy and procedures manuals

Sometimes organizations create a policy and procedures manual for members of the management team. In smaller organizations, the employee handbook serves this purpose.

If your organization has a policy and procedures manual, it would include more detailed policies, procedures, and guides and is often used as a management tool for supervisory staff. You must keep it 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 helpful, as employees can access the policy directly and old versions can easily be removed and replaced with updated versions.

Email

Staff can easily be made aware of a new policy by email. However, if providing a copy of the policy with the email, it's often better to give the link where the employee can access it rather than the actual policy. This will ensure that the most recent version of the policy is being accessed.

Information sessions

Holding an information session is an effective way to ensure that employees are informed of a new policy and have the opportunity to ask questions. It's particularly useful when concerns may be significant. The session should cover:

  • Any business decisions that led to the development of the policy.
  • The goal(s) of the policy.
  • How you developed the policy, including any consultation, research, and/or benchmarking.
  • How the new policy affects employees, including how you expect them to comply.

It's a good idea to keep a record of attendance for the session so you can follow up with anyone who could not 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 choice for complicated policies or extensive procedures, such as those related to discipline, dispute resolutions, or health and safety.

When developing a policy training session, include the same topics as you would for the information session, plus:

  • Training on the specific skills required to implement the policy.
  • Information about the specific procedures, guidance, and resources available to managers and employees to help them implement the policy.
  • Clear expectations of behaviour.
  • How the policy will be 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 harm the employee (such as wearing protective equipment when working) or where disciplinary measures could result from not following the policy (such as harassment).

Ongoing communication

Policies related to code of conduct, confidentiality and privacy as well as appropriate use of company equipment should be communicated often through staff meetings or newsletters to ensure employees are aware and comply with those guidelines.

Performance review periods can be a good time to revisit policies, including how they relate to your organization’s mission, vision and values.

Periodic 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 policies to be reviewed annually.

Policies 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, along with any revisions that are being considered.

When reviewing policies, consider the following:

  • Has the legal environment or regulations changed in a way that impacts the policy? At a minimum, you will want to review employment/labour standards, privacy legislation, occupational health and safety, human rights, and workers compensation.
  • Has the policy been effectively implemented?
  • How effective has it been in dealing with relevant situations?
  • What feedback have you received from managers and employees on the policy?
  • Is the policy accomplishing the objective for which it was intended?

Policy changes must usually go through your organization's approval process.

Communicating changes to policies

Some policy changes may be so fundamental that you may require legal advice before introducing them. Ensure you communicate significant policy updates. If employees must sign a statement of understanding for a policy update, ensure it forms part of the communication.

The board of directors' role in HR policy development

Boards can play a variety of roles in HR policy development. It's helpful to have the board clearly define the role they want to take in policy development, such as if they wish to be involved in shaping the content or only be engaged 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.

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