April 18, 2022

Is it time to review your Policies and Procedures Manual?

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Outdated policies can leave your organization at risk. Old policies may fail to comply with new laws and regulations. They may not address new systems or technology, which can result in inconsistent practices. Regular policy review and revision are an important part of all policies and procedures management plans, and it’s something in which your organization should invest time, energy, and resources.  Given an increased number of employees work remotely and communicate through a growing network of correspondence channels, the need for review is more significant than ever. 

Effective policies and procedures, including the manual, are living documents that must grow and adapt with an organization.  While the core elements of policies and procedures may stay the same, the details should change according to industry standards, organizational needs, or legal requirements.  In addition, policies should align with an organization’s mission, vision, and values. As a rule, you should review all policies every one to three years. Updating an entire manual can be an overwhelming task that is better to undertake a little bit at a time.  For example, 25% of the manual could be reviewed and updated every six months, so that over the course of two years, the entire manual receives scrutiny.  With changes resulting from developments, such as new laws or regulations, the relevant material should be updated immediately.

Making changes to the manual is time-consuming, and many organizations have manuals that are incomplete, out of date, badly written, poorly understood, and inadequately enforced. Yet there is no question that a high-quality policies and procedures manual can provide underlying documentation that helps an organization run effectively and efficiently. Basic steps for managing ongoing revisions can include the following:

  • Set a time for an annual or bi-annual review.
  • Determine who is involved with each policy. Your policy review and writing team will be different, depending on the policy.
  • Keep abreast of any governmental changes that affect your current policies or require you to make new ones.
  • Partner with management as to the need for new policies. Talk with them about suggested wording, and then research similar policies at similar industry organizations.
  • Document all comments and changes to a policy – as the policy writing team does their work, make sure to document all comments, notes, and input from every team member. This information is important in the event legal issues arise regarding a policy violation or its enforcement.
  • Ask your attorney to review any proposed revisions or additions, including your internal documentation procedures.
  • Proofread any drafts for clarity and conciseness as well as for grammatical and typing errors.
  • Schedule a time to bring changes or revisions before your board of directors or your manual review committee.
  • Include the approval date on all changes and revisions.
  • Make approved changes available online.
  • Notify employees via email, newsletter, memorandum, or posting of new changes.  Provide links to the revised manual.
  • Require employees to sign a statement that they are aware of the changes.
  • Include the changes in any new hard copies of the manual.

Areas to which you should pay close attention:

  • Anti-harassment and discrimination policies and reporting procedures;
  • FMLA Policies – the Family and Medical Leave Act;
  • Technology policies;
  • At-will statement; and
  • Disclaimer – Your manual and acknowledgment form should also include a clear statement that the manual is not a contract and that it is subject to change.

How do you know when policies require an update?  Here are a few times to conduct an additional policies and procedures review outside of your scheduled review timeframe:

  • Organizational changes - When your organization undergoes large-scale changes, such as a change in by-laws, executive leadership, or vision focus, it’s a good idea to review your relevant policies.  Your policies should align with your organization’s mission, vision, and values, as well as those of your senior leadership.
  • Changes to laws or to regulations - Laws and governmental regulations change constantly, which will impact certain procedures.  Your compliance team needs to be aware of these changes and know which policies they affect.  If there is a significant regulatory change on the horizon, you should gather your policy review committee for a special meeting, rather than waiting until your annual review period.  Incorporate these pending changes into your policies as soon as possible to help your organization adjust to the new regulations and follow them immediately.  If you build regulations into your policies as they are passed, the transition will be much smoother once the new laws go into effect.
  • An incident or policy violation - While you shouldn’t wait until an incident occurs to start reviewing policies and procedures, an incident or policy violation can still indicate the need for a change.  After any kind of incident, it’s a good idea to debrief and make sure the policy had the intended effect, even if the violation still occurred.  Examine the details of the incident to see if employees followed procedures properly and whether there were any gaps in training or problems understanding the policy. This will help you decide whether you should revise the policy in question, make small changes and updates, or just let it stand.
  • Is the policy being implemented as intended?  It’s okay if things don’t go perfectly the first time.  Trying to get many people to adhere to new rules is difficult, even if they’ve agreed to buy-in. Get feedback from key people and re-evaluate your implementation.  Continue to ask questions to understand the true value of your new policies and procedures, then expect the manual to evolve as more information becomes available.
  • Are the policies and procedures current and relevant?  For example, if your organization has adopted flexible and remote and work-from-home arrangements or flex scheduling, but your attendance and tardiness policies still revolve around the old standard schedule, update the policy to reflect your new work system and make those expectations clear.

While organizations must ensure that they have established their documentation for legally required policies before proceeding with the creation of further, optional procedures and policies, there should be procedures and policies for every area of your organization’s business.  It is the organization’s blueprint for internal operations.  When employees have questions about how to interact with the public, one another, management, or equipment, they should be able to consult the guidelines. These guidelines help ensure that everyone in the organization responds the same way to the same event.   As you develop policies and procedures, keep in mind that this is not a one-time process.  Your documentation will need to be adjusted and changed over time.  To develop policies and procedures, start by looking at what other organizations in your industry are doing.  Industry organizations may be able to offer some insight into what policies and procedures to consider.

Having clear, well-documented policies and procedures is essential to running a successful organization. We can help. If you need assistance with developing review procedures or crafting templates for new policies, please reach out to our Government, Education, or Not-for-Profit teams.

The information provided in this communication is of a general nature and should not be considered professional advice. You should not act upon the information provided without obtaining specific professional advice. The information above is subject to change.

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