HR policies are a must-have for any organization. They can guide employees and leaders about what’s expected of them, ensure everyone is treated consistently, as well as prevent problems—including legal concerns.

What Is a Human Resources (HR) Policy?

Human resources policies are guidelines for hiring, work processes, compensation, leave, training, promotion, work environments, termination and other important functions. HR policies also outline how an organization will treat its people and property. They’re developed by HR managers with the help of company management. It’s important to enumerate the policies before issues arise so you know how to respond.

What Is the Function of HR policies?

What are HR policies? The point of HR policies is to provide a framework for an organization so leaders can make consistent decisions and ensure people are treated equitably. Implementing effective HR policies can demonstrate that you’re able to meet ethical, diversity and training requirements. HR policies also help your company adhere to corporate governance and regulation of employees.

What Is the Function of HR policies?

You want your company to run as smoothly and efficiently as possible and stay compliant with HR laws. HR policies add structure and provide consistency in employment and workforce matters.

Examples include:

  • Ensuring fair and adequate compensation for all employees.
  • Addressing employee grievances and problems and appropriate ways to address them.
  • Training employees so their skills meet organizational needs.
  • Providing the framework to address personnel issues.

Key Elements for HR Policies

Although the specifics of each organization’s HR policies may differ, they should all be derived from employment best practices and regulations. HR policies should be transparent and universally applied to all employees. Key elements include purpose, procedures, who needs to follow the guidelines, as well as any definitions of terms used.

Other important elements include:

  • Guidelines for supervisors and managers
  • Organizational goals and values
  • Systems to regularly review changes that may affect employees
  • Context for various programs and benefits, such as professional development and onboarding programs
  • Clear steps to implement policies

HR policies are just one component of your overall workforce plan and HR strategy for employee management. So what are HR strategies and policies? The HR strategy is your overall goal for how to manage your workforce and help them grow while also boosting company performance. And the policy is how to implement that strategy. Your policies should be kept in your employee handbook and stored for easy access for employees, managers and your HR team. A human resource management system (HRMS) can help not only store the appropriate policies and procedures, but also implement some of them. For example, an HRMS can automate time off and scheduling functions.

Advantages of HR Policies

Creating and implementing HR policies can reduce liability. Since they’re meant to ensure employee-related practices are consistent and fair across the organization, well-written policies will offer leaders guidance based on compliance requirements. For instance, HR policies should help managers fairly interpret company guidelines and apply uniform treatment to all employees, regardless of age, gender, race or sexual orientation. If issues do occur, there will be policies in place to address the concerns.

By clearly listing policies, when problems do occur, you’re able to act promptly and save time by not repeatedly analyzing ways to solve similar issues. Additionally, you may be legally required to communicate some of this information. And formalizing a policy and then helping employees understand where to find things like the leave policy makes navigating requests like time off easier for the employer and employee.

Plainly listing policies encourages employee engagement and helps them better understand how to navigate key moments in their career growth, such as onboarding, promotions and offboarding. Specific policies may vary by industry. But whether you’re working in retail, manufacturing or the restaurant business, employee engagement and retention is vital, and HR policies help lay the groundwork for success.

HR Policies & Compliance

HR policies need to be compliant with local, state and federal regulations, especially for companies with at least 50 employees. Even if your company has fewer than 50 workers, HR policies can help your organization be proactive about shaping company culture and encourage efficiency.

Federal & State Laws Compliance

Your HR department should make sure your company follows federal employment regulations, such as the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), EEO-1 reporting for federal contracts and employer-shared responsibility as it pertains to the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

City & County Laws Compliance

Organizations also need to maintain compliance with local and state regulations. For example, there may be local minimum wage laws or anti-bias rules you should be aware of when crafting your HR policies.

Top 20 HR Policies for Employee Handbooks

Along with local, state and federal policies, you also need to address factors that are relevant to the type and size of your company, as well as how to communicate the guidelines in a transparent manner. It is also important to have a process to record an employee’s acknowledgement and understanding of your HR policies. Here are 20 policies to consider for your employee handbook that follow some of those policies, along with commonly accepted and best business practices.

1. Recruiting and Hiring Policies

Pre-hire policies include forms like new position requisition forms, referrals and evaluation forms. Formalize the onboarding process, which includes tax forms like the W-4. Consider standardizing the interviewing, selection and contract or offer letter processes.

2. At-Will Employment

State at the beginning of the employee handbook if employees are at-will, which means either the employee or the employer can end the employment at any time, as long as the reason is lawful. Check local and state regulations for at-will employment guidelines.

3. Conduct Policies

The goal of employee conduct policies is to keep the workplace environment safe and comfortable for all. These include sexual harassment, alcohol and anti-discrimination policies.

4. Employment Classification

Common classifications include full time, part time, exempt and non-exempt employees. These classifications help dictate eligibility for employee benefits and overtime pay.

5. Non-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment

Carefully craft your non-discrimination and anti-harassment policies with review of local, state and federal laws, as the regulations may change depending on location. Include the processes to follow if issues should arise along with what constitutes harassment and discrimination.

6. Safety Policies

Help employees understand safety and emergency procedures. It’s important that any work-related injury is reported quickly, so share with employees how to report workplace accidents. Look for industry-specific safety policies you may need to implement to comply with regulations under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. For example, the use of heavy machinery or hazardous chemicals.

7. Reasonable Accommodation

If employees with disabilities or sincerely held religious beliefs request it, you may be legally required to provide reasonable accommodation. State and federal laws may apply, so be sure to understand what’s legally required and then document and communicate the policies on how employees can submit requests and what accommodation will be made. Even if employees don’t submit the request in writing, be sure to document each request and any action taken.

8. DisciplinaryTermination Policies

These can span different types of policies, such as rules for attendance and anti-harassment, and need to cover reasons for disciplinary action that may result in termination. These policies should also include how disciplinary actions will escalate, such as going from verbal to written warnings.

9. Compensation Policies

Compensation policies should cover employee benefits and payroll frequency. It should also include how employees are paid (i.e., direct deposit) and any secondary benefits, such as education reimbursements.

10. Workplace Attire Policies

Appropriate workplace attire should be described in detail. Instead of using generic language like “professional attire,” be specific. And include information about different environments in your workplace. For instance, if you have a lab, include what type of safety goggles need to be worn for compliance reasons, or what attire teachers can wear on sports day.

11. Attendance Policies

Clearly outline for employees when they are expected to be at work and what to do if they have an unscheduled or scheduled absence or are late for work. Don’t forget to include how to record time worked and break policies.

12. Referral Program Policies

If you have a referral policy, include it in your employee handbook. List how any referral rewards are provided and any stipulations, like if the new hire has to stay employed for a specific time frame before the reward is given.

13. Expense Policies

If you reimburse for expenses, outline what is reimbursable, the maximum amount and the procedures to request reimbursement.

14. Leave Policies

Share with employees how to request time off. And list policies for sick leave, vacation time, maternity and paternity leave, and any company-recognized holidays.

15. Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment needs to be taken seriously. Keep your policies up to date and clearly communicate zero-tolerance guidelines as it relates to any inappropriate or unwelcome sexual actions or comments.

16. Bereavement Policies

Bereavement policies can be included in your general leave policy section or as a separate entry for compassionate leave. Detail the time off provided and how to make a request, including what to do if employees need to take a longer leave of absence.

17. Local and State Laws

Employment law will vary by location. Understand what your local and state laws require and include any variation in your employee handbook. For example, there may be differing wage and overtime laws, leave requirements or record keeping regulations.

18. Meals and Break Periods

Be clear about any meal and break period rules, including how long they can last and how many breaks employees can take. Some breaks may be required, but even if it’s not a legal requirement, listing your break policy is a best practice.

19. Using Company Property

Include documentation and procedures for the process of using company property such as equipment or tools. Incorporate things like the condition equipment should be in when returned, as well consequences if items are either damaged or not returned.

20. Resignation or Exit Policies

Make clear how employees should leave the company when they are ready to exit. Include information on how to hand in their resignation, the desired notice time and exit interview policies. Also, list reasons for involuntary termination.

Trending HR Policies

Current events and changes in the business landscape mean HR policies are not static. Addressing workplace trends can help you stay on top of best practices and protect your organization in a dynamic environment. Policies will change as your business develops, and they should support your overall human capital management efforts to help your employees grow in their careers while keeping your business nimble and adaptive.

What are the most important HR policies? Well, that will change based on your company, the location, the industry, the size and what most helps your employees. There are many that are legally mandated, and some policies are simply common and standard to include. Regardless, it’s important to adjust as business situations alter.

Consider including these six trending HR policies in your employee handbook:

  • Social media policy: Creating and enforcing social media policies can protect the reputation of your company. You may need policies for company accounts, as well as policies for your employees’ personal social media profiles. Include what disciplinary measures will be taken for policy violations.
  • Remote work policy: As workforces become increasingly mobile, help your employees understand what you expect of them. Include which employees are eligible for remote work, what limitations there are and how you’ll be monitoring their work.
  • Weapons in the workplace policy (or zero tolerance for workplace violence): Organizations should address additional violence policies, such as weapons, what items are considered weapons and behavior that's prohibited, and any disciplinary measures that will be taken for policy violations.
  • Updated confidentiality policy: Be specific about which work-related items are confidential. Don’t include items such as compensation and working conditions because those aren’t considered private.
  • Drug and alcohol policy: Expanding laws regarding the legalization of marijuana in some areas means organizations need to address how usage is addressed in the workplace. Keep in mind all local, state and federal laws regarding substance use when drafting the policy.
  • Bring your own device (BYOD) policy: If employees use personal devices for work reasons, draft policies for privacy and security measures, as well as any monitoring that needs to occur.

Supporting HR Policies with HR Software

Using HR software is an efficient and convenient way to keep the records you need to draft, implement and monitor HR policies. For instance, onboarding new employees or reimbursing employees may require workers to submit forms. HR software can make it more efficient by digitizing those forms and housing all documentation and records in one place. This data can then be used to track, assess and analyze whether policies are adhered to and decide what changes need to be made.

Organizations need effective and clear HR policies to establish order and to create a positive work environment. HR issues will come up and require leaders to address them, so having policies in place will alleviate the burden of having to assess how to address the same types of issues over and over again. Clearly communicating policies benefits both the employer and the employee.