21 Essential HR Policies and Procedures (With Forms)

Updated March 10, 2023

As companies draft an employee handbook, there are several important policies that outline the organization's expectations of its employees. Well-defined HR policies are an essential aspect of any organization because they provide clarity and structure. Learning about some of the common policies can help you assist your HR department in developing rules that can guide employee conduct.

 In this article, we explain what a human resource policy is and provide a list of 21 HR policies, procedures and forms that companies commonly include in their employee handbook.

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What are HR policies?

Human resource (HR) policies are guidelines that outline employee expectations, organizational obligations, disciplinary procedures and behavior standards. These are often written guidelines that HR includes in an employee handbook for employees to reference as needed. Each policy helps companies with a structure in which teams can work in a positive and productive way.

Functions of HR policies

Some specific functions of HR policies include:

  • Outlining the organization's opportunities for career growth

  • Fostering a healthy work environment

  • Aligning organization policies with legal requirements

  • Establishing the proper application of policies at all levels of the company

  • Providing context for various organizational programs, like orientation, onboarding and training programs

  • Communicating the company's mission, values and goals

  • Setting a foundation for organizational accountability during the decision-making process

  • Creating a basis for the employee handbook

  • Establishing the conditions of employment

  • Providing guidelines for employees and supervisors

Related: Q&A: What Are the Main Functions and Goals of HR?

Why HR policies are important

There are several reasons why HR policies are important for a company:

  • Showing respect for the needs of employees

  • Providing guidance for conflict resolution and how to solve problems

  • Providing guidance for training and development opportunities

  • Creating clear guidance for fair compensation

  • Outlining benefits and additional compensation requirements.

Essential HR policies

Here's a look at some of the most important human resource policies:

Employee punctuality and attendance policy

Attendance policies clearly state the expectation that employees should be on time and ready to work for their scheduled shifts. It also outlines the procedures for informing management of late arrival or unexpected absence. Companies often detail how many violations of this policy an employee can have until they can expect discipline.

Related: Attendance Write Up: What It Is and How To Write One (With an Example)

Health and safety policy

The Occupational Safety and Health Act requires employers with certain workplace hazards to have specific safety regulations in place. Aside from these legal requirements, it's a good idea to include emergency and safety procedures in your employee handbook. You might also detail the steps that employees must take if a workplace injury occurs and mention the expectation that all work-related accidents be reported.

Related: Human Resources: Definition and How It Works

Pay and timekeeping policy

A timekeeping policy goes over the importance of accurately tracking work hours and the proper procedures for recording them. You can also include a payday policy that informs employees about important details regarding their compensation, such as the:

  • Proper protocol for when a payday occurs on a holiday

  • Pay methods

  • Frequency of paydays

Meal and break policy

According to local, state and federal laws, organizations must provide employees with breaks for meals, rest and lactation. Establishing a policy for these needs allows you to state the restrictions and rules regarding these break periods, including the duration and frequency. For example, companies may require employees to take an hour lunch break daily.

Leave and time off work policy

Local and state laws have specific requirements for leave that you must include in your organization's employee handbook, such as voting leave. You might also review the organization's policies regarding employee time off benefits. There are many different types of leave policies, including:

  • Leave of absence

  • Bereavement leave

  • Parental leave

  • Family leave

  • Sick leave

  • Vacation

  • Statutory holidays

Employment classifications policy

There are several classifications for employees that can influence their eligibility for employee benefits. For example, part-time employees are often ineligible for healthcare benefits through their employer. You can clearly define these classifications in your employee handbook for every employee type.

Non-discrimination and anti-harassment policy

You can ensure that your workplace remains safe for all employees by establishing policies that clearly prohibit discrimination and harassment. Consider checking the local, state and federal regulations so that you can appropriately and comprehensively address this policy. This helps protect employees from any issues that may arise from other employees.

At-will employment policy

An at-will employment policy reiterates that the employee or organization can dissolve their working relationship for any lawful reason and at any time. Most states recognize at-will employment, and organizations typically consider it an essential policy. Because of this, you can place this statement at the beginning of the employee handbook and again on the handbook's acknowledgment form.

Social media policy

Many organizations have begun including a social media policy in employee handbooks so that they can protect the company's online reputation. You can detail the topics or information that employees are unable to post about on social media, and describe the disciplinary action taken if they violate one of these rules. This ensures employees represent the company in a way that matches the company's mission.

Telecommuting policy

The development of technology has enabled many employees to work remotely instead of in a main office. Explain your organization's stance on remote work, then list the policies for telecommuting. These can include things like:

  • Positions that are eligible for working remotely

  • Any limitations for remote roles

  • How you monitor remote employees

  • Pay and time policies

  • The organization's right to terminate telecommuting at any time

Weapons in the workplace policy

Employers are responsible for the health and safety of their employees. You can either address violence and weapons policies in a more generalized safety policy or address them on their own. Either way, consider explaining the kinds of weapons you consider weapons, prohibited behavior and any disciplinary measures.

Alcohol and drug policy

While keeping in mind the state laws regarding certain substances, draft a policy that outlines the organization's stance on the use of drugs and alcohol. Mention which substances you prohibit, any testing procedures you use and the disciplinary action for violations of this policy. This can be especially important in industries like construction where drug and alcohol use can create safety issues.

Confidentiality policy

Confidentiality policies communicate the specific topics that employees must keep private. Consider providing examples of confidential information, the obligations of employees and the consequences for violating the organization's confidentiality policy. You can also share how employees might discuss unethical practices with HR teams to protect them from backlash.

Personal device policy

Many employees prefer using their own devices, like tablets, laptops and phones, for company business. Because of this, you might take security measures. Consider addressing things like what personal devices employees can use for work, how you will monitor them and any limitations or security requirements.

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Important HR forms

Proper and thorough documentation allows organizations to track vital information and establish agreements with their staff. Here are some examples of important HR forms:

Business expenses

Business expense forms allow employees to track business-related expenses and request reimbursements in writing. This is most commonly used when employees travel for work. You might have separate expense forms for supplies or other inventory needs.

Related: 16 Essential Documents Human Resources Departments Need

Performance and discipline

Keeping thorough employee records can prove useful when it's time for reviews or when you must take disciplinary action. Document all disciplinary and performance events, including:

  • Performance improvement plans

  • Oral and written warnings

  • Promotions

  • Recognitions

  • Performance reviews

Reasonable accommodation requests

State and federal regulations require all employers to provide employees and applicants with reasonable accommodations for their religious beliefs or disabilities. Though reasonable accommodation request forms aren't a requirement, it's in the employer's best interest to keep detailed records of all communications regarding the request.

Leave of absence

Many organizations have employees submit time off requests in writing so that they can track the relevant details, such as the vacation hours used. The state and federal governments may have sample forms you can use for these purposes, like those used for Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requests. Companies might also have time-tracking tools to track this easier.

Employee handbook agreements

This form states that employees are responsible for reading, understanding and complying with all the organization's policies. You can have employees sign this acknowledgment when you issue the handbook and when you make updates. You might include digital signature options to track compliance.

Hiring forms

Organizations use forms throughout the hiring process to identify and onboard quality candidates. Candidate evaluation forms and job applications are extremely common during the pre-hire process. Additionally, there are certain government documents that candidates must complete after you hire them, such as a Form I-9 and a Form W-4.

Receipt of company property

You can use this form to document the company property that your organization supplies its employees, such as tools or equipment. This can help you track company property and ensure that employees return the items. There might be similar forms for returning equipment when employees leave.

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