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Nonprofits: Why You Should Implement Uniform HR Policies


Recently, the executive director at a nonprofit found herself in a bind. In her five years as executive director, she’d always been able to wing it when it came to answering employee questions about time off and other questions. And, so far, so good — until now. She inadvertently gave two employees conflicting answers to the same question, and now they both want to meet with her to get a definitive answer. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have one.

Scenarios like this play out every day in organizations that don’t have formalized human resource policies. A well-written, comprehensive employee handbook can help your organization avoid this executive director’s discomfort. In fact, if done right, a handbook can do even more.

Protection From Ruffled Feathers

A manager without an employee handbook is a lot like a coach without a rule book. You can’t expect your managers or team members to play by the rules if they don’t know what they are. Comprehensive employee handbooks ensure that everyone knows the rules of the game before they go onto the field. If employees don’t know the expectations, there’s a greater risk for liability.

Clearly written HR policies ensure your organization complies with applicable laws and strengthen your organization’s defense if a worker sues. But it’s better not to wait to test this theory until things head south.

Honking Your Organization’s Horn

More than just rules and regulations, employee handbooks can communicate the organization’s culture, and provide information on the unique benefits of working for your organization. Employees sometimes don’t appreciate everything their organization offers them, including the intangibles that make the organization a great place to work. Perhaps when it comes to benefits, that’s because they — and maybe even their managers — don’t know about them.

You needn’t go into minutiae about all of your benefit plans, instead pointing employees to the plan documents that govern the benefits. However, it helps to remind employees that you care about their welfare and to list out the variety of benefits that speak to that. Benefits to highlight include customized work arrangements, parental leave, summer hours and the organization’s contribution to the employer-sponsored health and dental plans.

Each Flock Is Unique

One word of caution: When it comes to employee handbooks, one size definitely doesn’t fit all. Think twice before making a few changes to an associate’s “borrowed” handbook and calling it your own. The handbook’s tone may be appropriate for a transportation organization, for instance, but be unsuitable for yours. Also, keep in mind the questionable integrity of a “borrowed” document. Chances are, you’ll have no idea who originally wrote the handbook let alone if it’s in compliance.

The same applies to downloading handbooks from the Internet. Yes, the handbook may be fine for, let’s say, an organization in one state, but may be inappropriate for multi-state employers. Distributing a document that doesn’t apply to the state(s) in which you operate can translate into an administrative — or worse, legal — nightmare for you.

Don’t Fly Solo

You may have worked in an organization that didn’t have an employee handbook. In fact, as a leader in an organization, you may have felt relieved to escape its whiff of bureaucracy. That may be until someone approaches you with an organization-policy question that you can’t answer. Properly drafted, updated, and followed policies can benefit every organization.

Contact VonLehman’s Human Resources Consulting Group at 800.887.0437 for guidance related to this topic.

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