What To Do When You Don't Have a Policy in Place

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What To Do When You Don't Have a Policy in Place

We've all been there. Something questionable happens in the workplace with an employee, but there is nothing in the handbook that defines what should be done. How do you handle issues that arise in the company when there hasn’t been any policies defined?

You want to have policies and procedures in place to ensure a safe, organized, comfortable and nondiscriminatory work environment. On the other hand, it’s impossible to have rules or policies in place for every situation (and no one wants to work for an employer who does).

You don’t want to have a policy in place for everything because it could allow for little room for management when addressing individual employee needs. On the other hand, you want to have certain policies in place so employees never feel as if they work in an extremely laid back environment.

Start here: policies you should have

Some policies that should be set in place already are:

  • Employment at Will
  • Equal Opportunity/Harassment
  • Technology use
  • Keep company in compliance with government policies and laws (FMLA, ADA, EEOC, minimum wage)
  • Safety rules, break rules, and smoking rules
  • Benefits eligibility, paid time off, bereavement time, and jury duty

Here's an example: an issue could arise if someone is spending too much time on a phone taking personal calls. The manager might informally take the employee aside and explain how this affects the business and the person’s value as an employee.

Sometimes, employees are unaware of what they’ve been doing and what is expected of them. A few words would be enough to set them back on track.  

Tip: Keep lines of communication open in both directions so the employee can discuss their concerns and problems before it elevates.

Corrective actions and discipline

There will come a point when something arises with an employee that may come up again. When this happens, a company needs to set a precedence for how they handle the situation, and more than likely it can be enforced within their current policies, typically with some form of discipline.

Tip: Most companies should have a corrective action or discipline policy in their handbook if they don’t already do so.

Disciplining an employee doesn’t necessarily mean termination. Usually, a company would have a policy in place by levels. For example: verbal warning, written warning, and then termination. A company should have a policy that is applied consistently to all employees in an unbiased way.

Establishing new policies

Once you determine that you need a new policy in place, you must first determine the goal you want to accomplish in writing the particular policy. It's a good idea to keep employees in the loop about the new policy and why it’s being enforced.

Tip: Make sure the new policy states the company’s rule clearly, but know that it’s impossible to cover every potential issue that could arise that’s being addressed by this policy.

While there should be basic rules set in place at work, more specific rules should be appropriate and reasonable for your employees to execute.

When you consider implementing a specific rule, here are some things to consider before doing so:

  • Will the policy excessively impact one employee?
  • Is the policy really necessary?
  • In what situation would this policy be used?
  • Are you willing to enforce the policy?
  • What documentation would be necessary to administer and enforce the policy?
  • What would the consequence be if/when someone breaks the new policy?

Make sure you avoid overly restrictive policies. Not only does it create a negative environment for employees, but you will seem unreasonable and unconcerned about the feelings of your employees.

Also, make sure rules aren’t perceived negatively. Make sure to get input from your employees when you create the policy. This way, employees will feel more involved in the process and more likely to accept and abide by the rules.

No matter what, use your best judgment in how a new policy addresses a situation and the severity of it in a consistent way.

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