Is it time to dust off your policy manual?

How to protect your organization from liability with well-drafted employment policies.

by Debra Reynolds

As we transition from summer to fall, it’s a good time to take stock of your organization’s written policies and procedures, including those related to your employees. We are often asked whether employment policies and procedures are necessary for all organizations, especially smaller entities with limited financial resources. Our response is always yes. Nonprofits benefit greatly from the protections provided by such policies, including protection from employment claims, such as wrongful termination, harassment, discrimination, and retaliation, and the long and costly legal battle that such claims can bring. With limited financial resources to expend on lengthy legal battles, a nonprofit entity’s written policies and procedures can help protect the organization from liability, proving to be a valuable asset for the nonprofit’s long-term success.

“But, we already have employment policies and procedures,” you say. When was the last time your organization’s leaders looked at the policies to ensure their consistency with your current practices? Has your legal counsel reviewed your policies recently? We recently reviewed a policy for a client that had not been updated since the 1990s, and it still required women to wear skirts or dresses. The client had long since abandoned that requirement, thankfully, but the written policy could have been a red flag to an EEOC investigator reviewing a discrimination claim. Equally important as having written policies in place, therefore, is regularly reviewing and updating your policies and procedures to ensure consistency with your organization’s current practices, as well as state and federal laws.

If your organization takes the time, effort, and expense of drafting employment policies and procedures, it should not allow the policies to sit idly on a shelf, never to be seen until there is an employment issue or claim against the organization. Treated as a constantly evolving document, the written policy manual should be reviewed by the organization on a consistent basis (at least annually) and any necessary updates, including changes in state or federal law, should be updated in the policies. Your organization’s legal counsel should review your policies to ensure legal compliance, as well. Additionally, employers should ensure all employees are aware of any revisions to the written policies, evidenced by signed employee acknowledgements of receipt and understanding of the revisions.

Drafted carefully and individualized to a particular organization and its purposes, written policies and procedures serve as a valuable resource to employees and employers regarding employer and employee expectations and employee rights. Clearly drafted, tailor-made policies will provide full notice to all employees, leaving no room for second-guessing as to the practices of the organization, the expectations of the employee, and the cohesiveness of both.

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