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How to Craft and Enforce HR Policies
Payroll Blog Post

Human resource policy-making and enforcement is usually not the most enjoyable part of an HR professional’s job but it is by far one of the more important. HR executives and managers should be very diligent and careful when crafting, updating and enforcing policies. Otherwise, concerns about fairness and/or legality can creep into the picture. Here's some proven guidelines to aid you in this process.

HR Policies Should Be Legal in All Relevant Jurisdictions

This dimension of policy creation and enforcement can become quite complicated. The main reason for this is that different levels of government often regulate and enforce for the same thing. Common examples include minimum wage and overtime pay guidelines. Other legal dimensions are left largely (if not entirely) to the states or largely to the federal government. Some cities pass laws that must be looked at as well. Any policy crafted that has a relevant law that regulates it (at one or more levels) must comply with ALL of the relevant laws. For example, if a state requires a half hour lunch break for employees and the city requires an hour, then the latter is what would have to be done from an HR policy standpoint since that it is the shortest lunch that complies with both laws.

HR Policies should be Equitable

Something that is typically more a matter of fairness and less of legality (although lawsuits can be filed for literally any reason) is policies that treat like situations differently, even if enforced to the letter and in every applicable instance. A good example would be a paid time off policy that awards employees 40 hours upon hire to use as they see fit until the end of the year. If an employee hired in February and a different employee in August both get the full 40 hours, that would be consistent enforcement of the policy, but it is not fair that someone gets 40 hours for working 11 months out of the year while a person that works five months gets the same benefit. In short, if a policy treats people unevenly, there needs to be a reason behind it that is justifiable and fair. Most firms address this example by having people accrue as they earn tenure, but still keep the year-end cutoff.

HR Policies should be Industry-Consistent

Another barometer that should be used vis-à-vis HR policies is whether it is consistent with the common practices and characteristics of an industry. A good example of this would be the mandatory working lunch. This is when employees are allowed to take their legally required lunch break but are still paid for the time because they can be called to work at any time and for any reason. This is a common practice for security guard employees because they are often the only person (or at least the only guard) on-site and must be available to respond as needed. However, if one is speaking of a simple customer service job, this is not something consistent with that industry and should probably not be done without a significant justification behind it.

HR Policies should be Widely & Openly Communicated

There is something to be said of employees not informing themselves of the policies they are subject to. However, this should never be happening mainly because the HR staff (and/or the relevant reporting managers) have not made every effort to inform the involved employees that they are subject to these rules. A common practice, for those firms that have the resources, is to use of an online Intranet or portal that requires employees to review a policy and to acknowledge that they have done so. Firms that are unable or unwilling to engage in this task themselves can have this done on their behalf by a payroll provider such as a PEO.

HR Policies should be Enforced Consistently

Zero-tolerance policies and enforcing every policy to the letter all of the time is not something that firms should be doing across the board as there may be situations that can and should be treated as exceptions. However, the practice of not enforcing a policy to the letter should be rare and should not be happening unless there is a rational (and legal) reason behind every single deviation from the policy. For example, say that an employee is late for the fifth time in clocking in and this would normally result in a verbal warning. However, if the lateness can be provably linked to something that was beyond the employee’s control (e.g. a late flight, a massive highway pile-up, etc.), that would perhaps serve as an exception.

However, two cautions should be offered on granting exceptions. First, the practice of granting exceptions to policies ALSO needs to be consistent. Second, some policies should never have exceptions such as sexual harassment or anything else that is likely to incur a lawsuit and/or EEOC investigation. A wider warning is that enforcing a policy to the letter for an EEOC-protected class (e.g. a woman, minority, etc.) and not doing the same, even a SINGLE time, for a non-protected class will be grounds for a lawsuit (or an EEOC investigation) that you will probably lose even if the punishment against the protected class employee was justified and allowable (or even required) under the policy. The EEOC themselves say in no uncertain terms that policies relative to things like harassment and hiring practices should be enforced consistently and should never be allowed to impact protected classes disproportionately or victims of harassment in any instance.


In summary, HR policies should be legal, should make sense and be enforced to the letter unless a good reason exists to not do so. Employees will take notice if HR policies are seemingly nonsensical or out of phase with industry-accepted practices. Employee feedback should be actively elicited by firms that want to know what employee’s perceptions are and those bits of feedback should be taken seriously.

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