Do you know what is worse than not having a policy and procedure manual? It is having an out-of-date policy and procedure manual.
Yes, all the work you have out into this project could be jeopardized if you do not maintain the manual by making timely revisions.
Changes in employment laws and regulations, and in the size and scope of your company and staff, may make your current policies obsolete. As a rule of thumb, plan on reviewing your manual every year or two for any necessary changes. Important changes can be made sooner to your online document. You can let employees know about the change via email and/or company newsletter.
If you keep each policy section on a separate page, and organize your manual in a three-ring binder, these changes and updates do not have to be stressful, expensive, or time consuming.
After you have revised the online document, notify employees that they can read the updated policy online by providing them with a link to the updated section. Employees then can print out the revised page, or pages, and place them in their binder, if they have a print manual.
Be sure to note the date of the change and the reason for the change on your revised policy page.
Technical updates are updates that occur between your scheduled review cycles for your manual. These updates provide clarification or communicate minor procedural changes (such as the changing of a department name).
Depending on how your organization is structured, you can usually make these technical changes without going through the formal review process.
However, when a manual requires multiple technical updates, a thorough formal review may be needed. Either way, be sure to flag these technical changes when it comes time for your formal manual review.
Do not waste time in making legal policy changes. Policies that are affected by changes to the law should be reviewed and made as soon as possible.
While some revisions come in the form of legal requirements, such new state or federal employee legislation, others may be spurred by problems that arise in your place of business. For example, you may not have seen the need for a no-alcohol policy until a drinking incident occurred.
Here are some steps to help you make sure your policy and procedure manual is up to date.
1. Perform an annual review of the entire manual, noting any areas of concern.
2. Look for policies that may not apply to your organization any longer. Has your company grown to the point that certain rules can no longer be effectively managed?
3. Have your by-laws changed? If so, your policies and procedures may need to change, as well, so that the important documents are in alignment with each other.
4. Has the legal environment changed in a way that impacts your policies? For example, have you moved to a different community? Are you conducting international business now? Have your hired independent contractors? Take the time to review current and pending employment legislation.
5. Are your policies being effectively implemented and enforced?
6. Are they accomplishing their objectives?
7. Have you received any feedback from managers or employees on your policies? Are they requesting any changes?
Your answers to these questions and to others that are pertinent to your industry will help you make needed revisions. Keep a list of any issues that come up during the year, so that you can make a recommendation to your supervisory board about any needed changes.
Continuing to update the manual
Let's say you've just finished updating your policy and procedure manual. You wrote the updates, got them approved by management and by legal counsel.
You revised the PDF version and made printed copies of the changed pages available to all departments. You asked for, and got, written or electronic signatures to confirm employees read the new changes and understand that the new policy replaces previous versions.
You will have the revisions part of the hard copy given to all new employees. Whew! You can now breathe a sigh of relief, right?
Well, not exactly. Since this manual is a living document, you will be making these kinds of revisions on an ongoing basis.
Here are the basic steps for ongoing revisions:
1. Set a time for an annual or bi-annual review of your policy and procedure manual.
2. Keep abreast of any governmental changes that affect your current policies, or require you to make new ones.
3. Partner with your company management as to the need for any new policies. Talk with them about suggested wording, and them research similar policies at other companies.
4. Proofread any drafts for clarity, conciseness, and for grammatical and typing errors.
5. Ask your attorney to review any proposed revisions or additions.
6. Schedule a time to bring changes or revisions before your board of directors or your manual review committee.
7. Include the approval date on all changes and revisions.
8. Make approved changes online.
9. Notify employees via email, newsletter, memorandum, or posting of the new changes. Provide links to the revised PDF.
10. Require employees to sign a statement that they are aware of the changes.
11. Include the changes in any new hard copies of the manual.
Even in years when there are not any big changes in existing labor laws, you should still review your manual and make updates, as needed. When performing this review, here are a few areas to which you should pay close attention:
Anti-harassment and discrimination policies and reporting procedures: Well-drafted policy and procedures to deal with any harassment and discrimination issues will help limit your organization's liability. Be sure to keep up with current legislation in this area.
FMLA Policies. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that requires companies with 50 or more employees to grant certain employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year with no threat of job loss. The FMLA also requires that employers maintain the health benefits for eligible workers just as if they were working.
Keep up with any revisions of these regulations and then make any changes necessary in your manual to ensure that you are in full compliance.
Technology policies: Is your policy too broad? Does it discuss outdated technology, such as pagers, but not address text messaging and social media posting? Is there confusion among employees as to who enforces your policy? If so, it is time to review your technology policy.
At-will statement: Your manual and any acknowledgment form should clearly state that employment is at-will and no company policy can be relied upon to alter that relationship.
Disclaimer: Your manual and your acknowledgment form also should include a clear statement that the manual is not a contract and that it is subject to change at any time.
In addition, here are some common mistakes to avoid in your manual. If you are revising your manual, look for these problem areas:
Introductory and probationary periods: Be careful that the language in this section does not imply that an introductory period is a guarantee of employment for any specific period. Alert workers that they are employed at-will during this period and throughout their time with the company.
Discipline and standards of conduct: If you include a disciplinary policy and procedure, be sure to state that you reserve the right to skip steps based on the severity of the problem.
Vacation time/sick days/paid time off: Clearly state how this time is accrued, whether it may be carried over from year to year, and whether it is paid upon termination. Be sure your policy language complies with state law.
Confidential information: Under certain circumstances, federal labor law grants employees the right to discuss topics, such as wage and benefits information, with both co-workers and with third parties, such as their union representatives. Be careful that the wording of a confidentiality policy does not appear to deny employees this right.
No solicitation and distribution: Does your company permit charitable solicitations (such as the sale of cookies for a school, or scout troop, or auction tickets from local nonprofits) in the workplace? If you do, then you may need to revise your solicitation policy. Consider electronic solicitations in your policy wording, as well.
Potential conflicts: Make sure the policies in your manual do not conflict with your by-laws, with your benefit plans or -- if you have employees in different states -- with the variances in state employment laws.
Doing the writing for an effective policy and procedure manual, be sure the wording of your policy is not filled with "legalese" or otherwise confusing language. Be brief, concise, and straightforward.
Avoid all-or-nothing words and phrases, such as "always," "never," "guarantees," "shall," and "shall not." Instead, use words and phrases, such as "usually," "often," "strives to," and "may."
As we have mentioned, it is a good idea to have your attorney review your phrasing to make sure your company is protected from any areas that could be left open to debate, or worse, litigation.
Don't go overboard with new policies. We can't stress enough that you can have too much of a good thing when it comes to policies.
Too many company policies can become restrictive to the point that they hamper your employees' innovation and creativity. Think carefully whether you need a policy after a one-time infraction, for example. Perhaps a well-written memo describing the event and management's response can be all that you need.
If safety or legal considerations are driving the push for a new policy, consult your attorney. You may find that the best way to protect your employees and your customers is not with a one-size-fits-all policy.
Also, as you add policies, look for ones you can delete. Technology may have made some of your old policies obsolete. Or, are some of your policies geared for a 50-member organization, when you now have 250 members?
In conclusion, a policy and procedure manual is a useful tool for streamlining the running of your business or organization. Both for-profit and nonprofit groups can benefit greatly from having a well thought out list of relevant policies and procedures.
Since the manual reflects the culture and the goals of an organization, the process of developing a policy and procedure manual should involve the efforts of many individuals. It should be evident by now that there is no one set of policies or procedures for an organization.
In fact, for many policies, any two people could write two different sets of procedures to carry out the same policy. Your goal, as someone charged with developing this important manual, should be to be as fair and as complete as possible.
No one manual could possibly deal with every situation that could come up in a company. In most companies, every day is different. Variables can include:
the number of people on duty
the time of day
the technology available
Manuals also differ depending on whether the organization serves the public or not, or whether it uses volunteers, or staff employees, or both. Many organizations typically need policies for the following topics:
Alcohol and Drug Use Policy
Benefits and Eligibility
Code of Conduct
Conflict of Interest
Discrimination and Harassment
Formal Complaint Process
Health and Safety
Hours of Operation
Learning and Development
Maternity, Parental, and Adoption Leave
Performance and Review
Use of Company Equipment
Carefully worded and standardized policies and procedures will save your company many hours of management time. They communicate rules and guidelines for the way your business is run. They also help to organize and announce plans for company growth. Their most important contribution is to communicate the company's investment in and appreciation for its employees.
We hope that we have given you the incentive and the necessary information to develop a policy and procedure manual that will be of help to your organization. Good luck!