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Manage your business

5 must-have policies to protect your business

Essential employee guidelines to put into writing


Ami Albernaz

| Jun 20, 2017

Jun 20, 2017



Updated: 04/11/19

Whether you employ eight people or 80, official company policies can help protect you and your team from mistakes or even legal problems. Clearly laid out guidelines and processes may prevent misunderstandings, and ultimately safeguard your business.

"Establishing your company's policies and procedures in writing is one of the most important steps you can take to help shield your business and employees from risk," says Aldor H. Delp, vice president and general manager of ADP Resource and HR Solutions.

A good place to start, Delp says, is to review the following five policy areas and identify the ones that your business needs to put in an employee handbook, give employees guidance on best practices, or ensure your business stays compliant with regulations.

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Here are some key things to consider:

1. Workplace safety:

Every business must maintain a safe work environment, and putting those rules in writing emphasizes to employees that they play a role in safety. Even low-hazard industries have to follow federal rules related to first-aid, fire-safety and emergency exits. Those regulations, as well as any others specific to your type of business, should inform your safety policy.

"Clear time-tracking procedures are critical for managing your labor costs."

Aldor H. Delp, Senior Vice President and Chief of Staff at Fiserv

2. Time tracking:

Tracking hours worked is essential if your employees are eligible for overtime, so formalizing a policy for how it is done helps ensure that data is submitted accurately. This policy can also eliminate ambiguity for all employees about issues such as tardiness, comp time or working remotely.

"Clear time-tracking procedures are critical for managing your labor costs," Delp says. "Automating with software lets you avoid the errors that come with handling it manually."

3. Time off:

A detailed policy for paid time off—sick days, vacation time and holiday closing—allows your employees to make plans for their personal time. They need to know how much time off is available, how to request it, whether unused time can be rolled over to the next year, as well as what happens if they need to take a leave of absence.

Be sure that your policy complies with applicable laws concerning family or medical leave from work. Also be mindful of regulations such as those governing accrued vacation time and paid sick leave—these vary from state to state.

4. Conduct and discipline:

List behavior that could lead to disciplinary action or termination, and articulate the consequences for violations. Policies prohibiting discrimination and harassment should also explain procedures for employees reporting such problems.

Be sure that your process for investigating harassment complaints follows employment law so that your business is not exposed to liability. Your broader code of conduct might include behavior that is specific to your industry—plagiarism may be grounds for termination at a local magazine, for example—or spell out common-sense prohibitions such as the use of drugs or alcohol during business hours. Articulate the consequences for such violations, and be sure to enforce them consistently.

5. Mobile device use:

Setting rules for personal mobile devices at work can help safeguard sensitive data, protect the privacy of employees and customers, and maintain productivity.

Specify what kind of business data may not be transferred from business devices to personal devices. Make recommendations for securing devices, such as setting complex passwords and avoiding unsecured Wi-Fi connections. A mobile device policy also lets you define acceptable use while on the clock—for example, you might allow use for brief phone calls or emailing, but not playing games.

It is a good idea to ask an employment lawyer or a trusted human resource professional to review any policies you develop. Also, ask employees to sign a copy of your policies, and encourage them to come to you with any questions or concerns.