What should be included in a personnel policy?

Developing documented policies and procedures is an essential step toward structuring an organization, guiding consistent and fair decision-making, and ensuring a safe and happy workplace. Writing a personnel policy will help you establish a company culture and rules of conduct, and help you determine how to handle situations before they arise. Once developed, it will also become the first resource you’ll turn to when orienting a new employee.

A personnel policy can provide all kinds of details that your new, and established employees should know. It’s up to you to decide how specific you want to get. Just remember, you’re bound by the policy you create. So make sure it’s not more restrictive than necessary by law. You may even want to talk to an employment lawyer to ask about labor rules that may affect you.

At minimum, your policy should contain discussion in the following areas:

Orientation or Trial Periods

Employers often use orientation or trial periods to apply an initial review of an employee or to phase in eligibility for benefits. If you choose to apply orientation or trial periods to new employees, be clear when and how their status will change, and seek legal advice if you’re unsure.


As an employer, you’re responsible for providing a safe workplace that meets health and safety standards. You must ensure employees are informed about hazardous chemicals and receive adequate safety training. You must also keep detailed safety records and notify the government about workplace accidents.

With this in mind, California law requires employers to develop an Illness and Injury Prevention Program. This policy should identify those responsible in your organization for implementing the Program, and describe your system for identifying workplace hazards, correcting issues, communicating with and training staff, and ensuring Program compliance.

For more information on your workplace safety responsibilities, visit the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) website (www.osha.gov).


It’s your responsibility to create and enforce a harassment-free workplace. A comprehensive harassment policy can help you do that. A good policy takes a no-tolerance approach. It outlines types of harassment, describes prohibitive behavior, outlines training and education procedures, encourages victim reporting and ensures confidentiality. It also details complaint procedures, and promises prompt disciplinary action.

Grievance Procedures

Though grievance procedures are not required by law, you may want to consider adding them to your personnel policy. Formal grievance procedures will boost employee confidence and provide specific steps for filing and responding to complaints. Developing policy in this area and consistently following it can save time and administrative costs when grievances do arise, and even minimize your exposure to liability.

When writing your grievance procedures, be specific about:

  • Eligible employee classifications.
  • The kinds of disputes that are covered.
  • The steps to filing, and any time constraints.
  • Levels of authority and the designation of substitutes.
  •  Rules governing evidence and cross-examination.
  •  Representation at grievance procedures and the use of arbitration.
  • Any rules against retaliation.

Jury Duty

Under California law, employers are not allowed to fire or discriminate against an employee called to serve as a juror or testify as a witness, provided the employee gives reasonable advance notice for time off. That said, employers are typically not required to pay wages while an employee serves as a juror or witness. Therefore, your policy in this area may want to state whether and for how long wages and benefits are provided during jury leave.

Family and Medical Leave

Under federal and California state law, employers with 50 or more employees (fewer in some states) must provide eligible employees unpaid family and medical care leave of up to three months in a 12-month period. Leaves can be taken to care for a newborn or adopted child, or a child, spouse or parent with a serious health condition. In addition, employees unable to work due to pregnancy-related conditions may take up to four months of disability leave, in addition to their maternity leave.

Maternity and medical leaves are typically granted under the expectation that an employee will be eligible to return to work. And the law prohibits discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions. Therefore, your policy in this area should be carefully crafted and clearly specify the circumstances under which maternity and medical leaves will be granted. It should also outline the employee’s obligations while on leave.

To learn more about developing a personnel policy, consult a reputable guide such as the Employee Handbook and Personnel Policies Manual by Richard J. Simmons, LLP, L.A.

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