Losing someone close to you is one of the most difficult things a person can go through. As an employer, you may wonder what you can do to help a staff member through this difficult time.
One of the most important things you can do is to give them time — not only time to grieve, but time to manage the often staggering amount of planning, organizing, and paperwork that must be completed to prepare for a funeral if they are entrusted with this incredible responsibility. Having recently lost a close family member, I was shocked at the amount of time needed to complete the arrangements along with necessary legalities. The fortunate ones, like me, have an employer who is not only understanding, but also a leader in better people practices.
A bereavement policy is just one of the many policies organizations should have in place that not only sets them apart with better people practices, but also to help ensure consistency in application across the company or from one year to the next; not to mention the fact that many are legally required.
Consistency in how you treat your staff is important to avoid feelings of unfairness as well as avoiding potential legal challenges or even significant fines for non-compliance. Some may balk at the idea of having a policy manual citing the need to remain flexible, but flexibility can be built into policy manuals while retaining the integrity and intent of the policies and guidelines.
According to Gordon McAlpine, practice leader of organizational effectiveness at People First HR Service, having sound policies also helps guide those in a supervisory role on how to respond to different situations that may arise in the workplace and provides guidance to prospective or current employees on what they can expect from the organization.
Considering legislated requirements and best practices, here is my recommended list of Top 10 must-have policies for Manitoba employers, although the list could just as easily extend into other provinces (the average manual would include about 40 policies and guidelines):
1. Respectful workplace — Human rights as well as workplace safety and health legislation state companies must not tolerate or condone harassing or disrespectful behaviours or actions. This policy should provide information on expectations around the treatment of employees in the workplace and what employees should do if they are subject to, or observe, the prohibited behaviours or actions.
2. Health, safety and violence prevention — Workplace safety and health legislation requires that companies guide their employees on how to stay safe while at work and what to do should an incident occur. Violence prevention may be included in this section and should describe where employees are at risk and what to do should they become a victim of violence in the workplace.
3. Whistleblower — Provides direction to employees and external stakeholders in the communication of concerns regarding questionable financial or operational matters.
4. Gifts — Business gifts and entertainment have the potential to compromise the objectivity and integrity of a company. This policy provides guidance to employees on what is acceptable practice in receiving gifts from suppliers, customers or other third parties.
5. Overtime — While Employment Standards stipulates overtime payment and eligibility, employers should provide guidance on what an employee must do to be eligible for overtime payment to avoid potential liabilities down the road.
6. Attendance — As obvious as it may seem, outlining expectations around attendance and what employees should do if they are going to be absent from work helps to ensure clear expectations.
7. Leaves of absence — Outlines all legislated and non-legislated leaves indicating what is paid and what is unpaid and what procedures need to be followed.
8. Code of conduct and corrective action — Offers a statement about the conduct that is expected and what is not acceptable behaviour in the workplace. It also outlines steps that will be taken if an employee demonstrates unacceptable behaviours or actions while at work.
9. Substance abuse — Having a statement about the employer’s commitment to providing a workplace that is free from substance abuse reinforces a culture of a safe and productive work environment.
10. Employee concern process — In non-unionized workplaces, it is essential that employees know what to do and who to go to if they feel their concerns are not being heard. Better for employers to hear the concerns internally and have the opportunity to address them before external resources are required.
While legislation provides information on what employers are required to do, capturing this information in an easy-to-read manner where it is easy to access makes good business sense. It ensures there is less room for misinterpretation and can highlight where the company provides benefits and practices that are better than the minimum requirement.
Finally, don’t let the policy manual gather dust on the shelf and assume your employees know your expectations. A better practice is to hold employee information sessions to ensure understanding and allow the opportunity for questions. If you haven’t seen your organization’s policy manual, ask your supervisor or human resources department for a copy.
Back to my original point — if you don’t have a bereavement policy, create one, or at the very least consider your past practices and decide if you need to fine tune. If you already have a bereavement policy, take a look and see if it really would meet the needs of your employees and set you up to be an employer of choice.
One final point, please throw away your “probationary period” policy so your employees don’t feel like they’ve just been released from prison. A friendlier naming convention such as “introductory period” would be well received.
Colleen Coates, CHRP, CCP, is a practice leader with People First HR Services Ltd. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 3, 2012 H2