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Establishing Policies

Employee Policies Your Company Should Have

Policies serve a dual purpose. They outline how employees are expected to behave – and how businesses are expected to operate. By establishing employee policies, employers help ensure that all employees are treated in a fair and consistent manner. These are the most essential policies for your workplace:

Code of Conduct: A code of conduct should answer any questions employees have about ethics or compliance, such as dress codes, grooming standards or office relationships.
Nondiscrimination: Under federal laws, employees are protected against discrimination based on protected classes, including age, sex, national origin, disability, race and religion. Outlining these policies helps employees know what behavior is unacceptable in your workplace.
Harassment: Harassment occurs when employers or workers create an intolerable work environment based on any of the protected classes listed above. You need to be clear that your workplace has no tolerance for any kind of harassment. When putting this policy in writing, be sure to include procedures for employees to report this behavior.
Attendance: Attendance policies should cover everything employees need to know about working hours, time off, break rules, scheduling and leave policies, at a minimum.
Compensation and Benefits: In addition to explaining your pay schedule, you should include other pay-related inquiries, such as required deductions, overtime rules and voluntary deductions for benefits programs, including insurance or retirement plans. You should also provide a high-level overview of your benefits.
Employment and Termination: Your employment policy should cover at-will employment, employee classifications, referral programs, probationary periods, transfers and other topics related to employment at your company. Address your disciplinary policies in this section and how they can lead to termination, including a list of any behavior that would automatically lead to termination.
Safety and Security: Describe how your company creates a safe, secure workplace, including any relevant Occupational Safety and Health Administration laws, such as reporting workplace accidents, injuries or safety hazards. Additional policies covering violence in the workplace, smoke-free or drug-free work environments, and bad weather/disasters all fall under safety topics.
Computers and Technology: Policies should address appropriate computer and software usage, as well as security or confidentiality requirements for electronic information. These policies should be examined and updated frequently to make sure they continue to comply with laws while also addressing growing security issues.

This is only a suggested list of the policies your company should create. The actual policies and procedures your business needs may be more, depending on the size of your company, number of employees, benefits offered, locations or other factors.

Creating Your Code of Conduct

Creating a code of conduct is critical to managing employee behavior. Not only does an employee conduct policy detail actions, activities and other behaviors that are acceptable or prohibited in the workplace, but it also provides you with an invaluable tool for defining the line which, if crossed, could result in disciplinary actions up to and including termination. Certain actions could have even more far-reaching internal or external repercussions, including lawsuits, for your company.

The most important component of the employee conduct policy should be a list of what behaviors are not permitted. These can be separated by degree of offense or level of disciplinary action taken. This list can include:

Failure to perform job duties at a specific level of productivity
Sexual harassment
Harassment of any kind
Unwanted physical contact
Foul or offensive language
Theft of company property
Abuse of the timekeeping system
Tardiness or absenteeism

Employee Dress Codes

Nearly every company has a dress code that outlines what is acceptable in terms of employee attire in the workplace. Here’s an overview of the three most common dress codes:

Uniforms: If uniforms or a uniform standard of dress (such as style and color) are required, you should be aware that if your company does not provide these uniforms, you still may be required to compensate your employees for the purchase of shirts, pants or other apparel that conforms to a restrictive dress policy. Provide details on whether or not employees are required to pay for all or a portion of the uniform costs.
Casual: Casual attire generally consists of blue jeans that are clean and have no visible damage, and a polo shirt, button-up shirt or blouse in equally good condition.
Business Casual: Business casual attire requires slacks or dress pants rather than jeans. Flip-flops, open-toed sandals and slippers are generally not permitted.
Formal: Formal workplace attire consists of a dress suit with pants, shirt, tie and jacket (for men) or a comparable ensemble for women. Women may also wear skirts of an acceptable length or dresses in lieu of a suit.

Office Space Decorations

If you permit employees to personalize their individual work areas with decorative items, you should clarify what items may not be appropriate. Your workplace should prohibit:

Any imagery containing full or partial nudity, actual or perceived violence, or any content that could be considered illegal
Comics or other images with text that contains foul or offensive language (if it can be associated with a category of persons protected by the Civil Rights Act of 1965 and other state or federal laws that prohibit discrimination, it can be deemed offensive)
Content that promotes discrimination of any kind against any persons for any reason, regardless of federally protected status
Candles, incense burners, liquid potpourri warmers, or other items that generate heat or flame, require continuous supervision, and could be a potential safety hazard
Any decor items that could be categorized as a weapon (decorative knives, swords or throwing stars)

Regardless of what items are included or excluded here, employees should be aware that personal decorations may be evaluated and approved (or prohibited) on a case-by-case basis.

Must-Haves for Attendance Policies

Every company needs an official employee attendance policy so employees know when to arrive, when they can leave and how they can take time off. Your attendance policy should cover:

Employee work hours
Define what a work day is at your business. Does your company have a specific stop and start time for all employees, or is the work day simply a set number of hours? If hours vary, describe how and where hours will be posted, as well as how employees should clock in or out.
Late or missed work time
“Late” can mean different things to different people – so take the time to establish when an employee is considered late versus absent. Additionally, outline the procedure for calling out, including who should be notified and whether or not the employee is responsible for finding a replacement for unscheduled time off.
Time off
Write a clear description of what paid and unpaid time off is available for employees, including when and how they qualify for time off and how much time they accrue each week, pay period, month or year. Be sure to explain the policy for requesting time off, including any deadlines for vacation requests or any blackout periods.
Holidays and other company leave
If your business offers paid holidays, floating holidays or will be closed for certain holidays with or without employee pay, be sure your employee attendance policy covers that. Any religious leave policies should be included, too.
Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave
Businesses covered by the FMLA need to include the process and qualifications for FMLA leave as a part of their employee attendance policies.
Military leave
Almost all businesses are covered by the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA), so make sure military leave policies, including reemployment, are indicated.
Leave of absence
If your business offers any other employee leave-of-absence options, be sure to include those in your policy as well.
State and local laws
Some states and local governments permit protected leave for activities such as attending school events, donating blood or serving on a jury. Research your local and state laws and include them in your policy.

While there are other things you may wish to include in your attendance policy, these basics will have you on the right track for a complete, legal and informative employee attendance guide for you and your employees.

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Jaime Lizotte
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HR Solutions Manager
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