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The range of policies which might be contained in an employee handbook is really unlimited. There are, however, certain core policies every employer should implement.
The list starts with a harassment policy. This policy sets out the employer’s stance forbidding workplace harassment (including sexual harassment and other forms, such as bullying). It should also provide a complaint resolution process and define the range of disciplinary measures which may be imposed on the offender.
Second, all workplaces must now have a personal information protection policy (sometimes referred to simply as a privacy policy). This establishes the workplace rules regarding the protection of personal information of customers and employees. It will provide mechanisms for accessing and revising personal information and a complaint resolution process.
Third, just about every employer should now have a policy governing employees’ use of technology in the workplace. Email use and internet access are the two aspects most requiring rules and boundaries for acceptable use, but other forms of abuse of computer equipment may be addressed as well.
Fourth, to protect against court actions for wrongful dismissal, every employer should have (and abide by) a policy setting out the termination notice and/or pay formula for employees. The formula must, of course, at least meet the applicable statutory employment standards for notice of termination (or pay in lieu) and the policy must be implemented in a contractually binding manner.
Fifth, all employers should have a policy setting out the disciplinary process to be followed in response to employee misconduct. The policy should identify how the employer will respond to instances of misconduct, specifically identifying the escalating disciplinary measures which may be imposed.
Sixth, as absenteeism is a continual headache for many employers, it is vital to have a well-drafted attendance policy. It should set out the employees’ basic obligation to attend work as scheduled and it should also describe how excessive levels of employee absenteeism will be handled by the employer.
Employers should note, however, that dealing with employee absenteeism is a very complex task. It touches on issues of both culpable and non-culpable absences and also borders on the areas of discrimination and accommodation of disabilities.
Seventh, if the employer wishes to avoid claims for pay at overtime rates (and possible complaints for non-payment), it should have an overtime policy. It should strictly control the circumstances in which overtime may be worked and the process for obtaining prior approval. The overtime pay rates must, of course, comply with the statutory employment standards requirements.
Eighth, employers (especially those in any sort of safety-sensitive setting) should have a policy addressing the topic of workplace impairment. Possession and use of intoxicants – including prescribed medications which might cause impairment – in the workplace should be prohibited unless the employee has obtained prior approval.
Ninth, all employers should have a policy prohibiting employees from engaging in conduct creating a conflict of interest. A conflict of interest includes any means by which an employee might inappropriately gain a personal benefit by taking advantage of the employment relationship. The policy should clearly state the disciplinary measures which will be imposed in response.
Finally, every employer should have a workplace health and safety policy. Such a policy is intended to ensure employees are informed of their obligations relating to workplace safety issues.
For instance, the safety policy may state the employees’ obligations to: take reasonable care in the workplace; carry out their work in accordance with established safe work procedures and occupational health and safety regulations; use and wear the required protective equipment; not engage in horseplay; not be impaired by drugs, alcohol, or other intoxicants; and promptly report any circumstances which pose a safety risk.
These ten types of policies, if implemented properly, will form the core of a very useful employee manual. The final content of such policies will go beyond the aspects I’ve identified here, and experienced advice is highly recommended when it comes to drafting and implementation of an employee manual.
Robert Smithson is a labour and employment lawyer, and operates Smithson Employment Law in Kelowna. For more information about his practice, or to subscribe to You Work Here, visit This subject matter is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice.