Human resources policies can be compared to game rules. They safeguard fairness and equality for everyone in the organization, guide management and supervisors, and clearly explain expectations. HR policies reflect organizational culture and ensure compliance with employment legislation. Outlined in the employee handbook, every HR policy addresses five points: scope, or who it covers; accountability, or who enforces it; definitions of relevant terms; procedures; and any relationship to other policies.

Employee Conduct

An organization uses HR policies to notify members of its workforce what it expects of them. Topics range from dress code to using social media. The steps to take for absences and thresholds that trigger consequences for absenteeism fall under an attendance policy. Discipline and corrective action policies detail procedures and subsequent outcomes for performance issues. Although only publicly traded firms need an ethics policy to comply with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, Business Ethics online magazine editor Michael Connor told Inc. that all businesses should have an ethics policy to minimize risk. Such a policy presents the firm's position on honesty, confidentiality and accountability, and defines gift-giving situations and conflicts of interest.

Employment Terms

The conditions under which employment may end protect employees and employers when written as policy. "At will" employment, under which an employer reserves the right to terminate an employee without notice or cause is a good example. If you allow a 60- or 90-day probationary period for new hires or if employment hinges on adherence to noncompete requirements, your employee handbook should cover these policies. Some organizations outline their policies on reduction in force.

Work Environment

HR policies that deal with the work environment explain the organization's vision for diversity and other equal employment opportunity criteria, including a zero tolerance for harassment and grievance procedures. Businesses that adopt smoke-free and fragrance-free rules include them as HR policies. Safety and related training policies, whether OSHA-mandated or not, assure employees that the company takes their well-being seriously. Examples of safety policy topics include wearing ID badges, visitors, and steps for emergencies such as fire, lost children, evacuations and inclement weather.


Clearly defined policies for recruitment, hiring, promotions and transfers guide human resources professionals and minimize litigation risks. These road maps address reference checks, background checks, testing requirements and documentation retention. When and if hiring relatives -- nepotism -- is acceptable appears in some HR policy manuals, as do onboarding, career planning and the internal selection process.


The company must explain its stance regarding benefits. Paid time off -- personal days, sick days, vacation, holidays, jury duty and bereavement -- require written policies to avoid misunderstandings, disappointment and confusion. Programs for tuition reimbursement and employee assistance also merit separate policies. Worker's compensation and leaves of absence are prime HR policy candidates, as are 401(k)s, domestic partner eligibility and perks such as travel vouchers.