Essential Personnel Policies

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    © Copyright Carter McNamara, MBA, Ph.D., Authenticity Consulting, LLC. Note that matters of employment law and regulations apply the same to for-profit and nonprofit organizations.

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    About Personnel Policies

    Role of Personnel Policies

    There are numerous laws and regulations that regulate the nature of the relationship between an employee (and volunteer, in the case of nonprofits) and his or her organization. They are intended primarily to ensure that everyone is treated fairly and equitably regardless of their race, creed, color, or sexual orientation. They are intended to ensure that the treatment of employees and volunteers is based primarily on their job performance. Common types of activities guided by the laws and regulations are, for example, hiring and firing, benefits and compensation, affirmative action, rights of privacy, discrimination, and harassment, and wrongful termination.

    One of the fastest-growing types of lawsuits brought by employees against their organizations is wrongful termination of employment. Other common types of lawsuits are in regard to allegations of discrimination and harassment. It is far better for organizations first to ensure that these types of improper types of behaviors do not occur than to have to defend themselves in courts of law. The best way to ensure the occurrence of proper behaviors is to enact comprehensive guidelines regarding how employees and volunteers are treated in the workplace. These general guidelines are called personnel policies. Specific sequences of activities resulting from the guidelines are often called procedures.

    Note the difference between operational policies and personnel policies. Operational policies are to guide how employees conduct the activities of the organization, ranging from how a client joins a program to making sure the coffee maker is unplugged at the end of the day. Operational policies are not about the nature of the relationship between the employee or volunteer and the organization.

    Developing Personnel Policies

    Each organization should carefully consider what policies it requires and how they should be worded. When developing policies, always consult an expert who is very knowledgeable about federal, state/provincial, and local laws regarding employment practices. For example, in the USA, consider the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1992, and the Occupational Safety and Health Acts. In Canada, some major employment laws are the Employment Insurance Act, the Canada Pension Plan, the Old Age Security Act, the Canada Labour Code, etc. Personnel policies might also be governed by union rules or other contractual agreements.

    Many organizations develop their policies first by closely reviewing the policies of organizations with similar programs and services. While that practice is a good start, you still should have authority over employment practices to review your policies. Finally, in the case of corporations, the Board should formally approve the policies and the approval should be documented in Board meeting minutes.

    Sample List of Personnel Policies

    The following is a sample list of policies. Consider the following list to get an impression of some of the major policies in an organization. This list is by no means definitive for every organization. The policies developed by one organization depend on the nature and needs of the organization.

    Work Schedule

    Workday hours
    Lunch periods
    Sick Time
    Personal Leave
    Leave of Absence
    Severe Weather
    Jury Duty

    Hiring Procedures

    Americans With Disabilities Act
    Interviewing job candidates
    Checking references
    Offering employment

    New Employee and Internal Orientation

    New employee orientation — general information
    Agency-wide new employee orientation
    Intern orientation
    New employee and internal orientation checklist


    Overtime and compensation time
    Classifying employees as exempt or non-exempt
    Salary ranges
    Positioning pay within a salary range
    Maintaining competitive salary information
    Reclassifying positions
    Salary review policy
    Promotional increases
    Withholding salary increase due to performance
    Withholding salary increase due to leave of absence

    Payroll Information & Timekeeping Procedures

    Payroll information — General
    Payroll information — Direct deposit procedures
    Payroll information — Required and voluntary payroll deductions
    Timekeeping — General discussion of non-exempt and exempt employee classifications

    Supervisor’s signature


    Eligibility and general information
    Types of available benefits
    Medical insurance
    Dental Insurance
    Disability insurance
    Supervisory communication
    Life insurance
    Confidentiality note
    Retirement plan
    Social security
    Employee advisory resource

    Workers’ Compensation Information and Procedures

    When there is an injury or accident on the job
    What is covered under Workers’ Compensation
    Type of injury covered by Worker’s Compensation Insurance
    Medical expenses resulting from a work-related injury
    Resources available

    Performance Assessment Procedures

    Performance assessment cycle
    Performance assessment process
    Dealing with performance issues
    Discipline: when the positive approach does not work
    Separation from employment checklist
    Communications by the supervisor regarding personnel issues
    COBRA (Consolidated Budget Reconciliation Act)
    Leave-taking procedures

    Financial Management

    Budget management
    Capital expenditures
    Supervisor’s responsibilities in maintaining the budget
    Operating management
    Financial reporting

    Supplementary Information

    Discrimination or sexual harassment complaints
    Complaints regarding programs or staff

    Data Practices

    Security of Records
    External releases
    Internal releases
    Use of data
    Legal procedures
    Destruction of records
    Staff Access

    Training on Policies

    If employees’ or volunteers’ (in the case of nonprofits) behaviors do not conform to the written personnel policies for your organization, and if an employee or volunteer sues your organization, then courts will consider your written policies to be superseded (or replaced) by your employees’ or volunteers’ actual behaviors that you appeared to be permitted to occur.

    For example, if policies specify that employees should not discriminate on the basis of race, creed, or color, yet there was a history of your employees clearly discriminating against other employees on that basis, then courts will conclude that your policies permit discrimination. Therefore, it is critical that employees and volunteers have a clear understanding of each personnel policy and that their behaviors conform to those policies. The best way to accomplish that understanding is for employees and volunteers to be trained on the policies and for their supervisors to always be sure that policies are followed. Training about policies can be carried out by ensuring that:

    • All employees and volunteers receive an orientation that includes an overview of the policies and procedures.
    • All employees and volunteers sign a document that indicates that they have reviewed the policies and will act in accordance with them.
    • Supervisors regularly issue reminders to employees and volunteers about key policies.
    • All supervisors themselves act in accordance with the policies.
    • Any violation of the terms of the policies is immediately addressed with reprimand or termination of the employee or volunteer, depending on the nature of the violation.

    Various Perspectives on Personnel Policies

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