Developing HR Policies

This section is most useful to those who are just beginning to develop policies and those who are reviewing and updating existing policies.

In this Section:

Defining policy and procedure

A policy is a formal statement of a principle or rule that members of an organization must follow. Each policy addresses an issue important to the organization's mission or operations.

A procedure tells members of the organization how to carry out or implement a policy. Policy is the "what" and the procedure is the "how to".

Policies are written as statements or rules. Procedures are written as instructions, in logical, numbered steps.

Essential HR policy topics

At a minimum, small organizations should have policies on the following issues:

  • Performance management
  • Hiring
  • Holidays
  • Hours of work
  • Leaves of absence
  • Overtime
  • Termination
  • Vacation

Essential content of a practical, useful policy

A good policy should include:

  • Policy name
  • Effective date of the policy and date of any revisions
  • Purpose of the policy (what it is intended to promote or achieve)
  • Main policy statement
  • Definitions of any key concepts or terms used in the policy
  • Eligibility or scope (what groups of employees are covered by the policy)
  • Scope of permissible exceptions and who is responsible for making exceptions to the general application of the policy
  • Positions in the organization responsible for implementing and monitoring the policy

Procedure content

Policies often have a related procedure, which may be a section of the policy or a separate document that the policy refers to. The procedure gives numbered, step-by-step instructions for carrying out the policy. For greater clarity, procedures should be contained in a document separate from policies.

Example: A vacation policy would say how much vacation employees are allowed. A related procedure would tell employees how to schedule their vacation time and get approval.

Common features of a practical policy

Here are some important features that make an HR policy easy to interpret and use.

Good organization and layout

  • Policy is logically divided into numbered sections, which are clearly labeled
  • Pages are numbered and total number of pages given (Example: "Page 6 of 8.")
  • Policy and section name appear on each page
  • Policy is set in clear, readable type
  • Space between paragraphs and around the margins to rest the eye

Relevant content

  • Addresses an issue that is current and relevant to the organization
  • Purpose of the policy is clearly stated

Clear language

  • Language is easy to understand and free of jargon
  • Terms are used consistently. (For example, "payment" is not used in one place, and "remuneration" in another.)
  • Special terms are defined
  • Sentences and paragraphs are short

Fairness and flexibility

  • Policy statement leaves room for managers to be flexible and respond to individual circumstances
    • Content and wording is unbiased and encourages fair, consistent treatment

Legal compliance

The policy:
  • Complies with employment standards and other federal and provincial legislation
  • Is consistent with the terms of any collective agreements

Unilaterally introducing policies

As part of its management rights, the employer may introduce a unilateral policy without negotiating the terms of the policy with the bargaining agent for the employees, if applicable.

To do so, however, the policy must:

Employers must demonstrate compliance with the last five factors if they wish to rely upon discipline or discharge of a non-unionized employee because of a violation of a policy.

Role of the board of directors in HR policy development

Boards can play a variety of roles in HR policy development. The important thing is to clearly define that role. A board may form an HR committee to write policies and procedures, or delegate this duty to the executive director. Often the board is responsible for the final approval of all policies. Also, a board may set a time frame for reviewing HR policies, or delegate this responsibility.

How to write HR policies and procedures

Identify the important policy issues for your organization.

Working with the members of your organization responsible for policy development, make a list of the policy issues you need to address.


Ask yourself these questions about each potential policy.

Collect information

Collect information on past practices in your organization. Research policy models in organizations similar to yours.

Draft the policy

Write a first draft. Include the following content.

Include the following formatting to help the reader navigate.

Circulate and revise the policy

Give a copy of the draft to each key member of your organization involved in policy development. Discuss and agree upon revisions. Prepare the final draft.

Get approvals needed to put policy into effect

If your board is responsible for giving final approval, this is often done with a formal, recorded motion. The motion can include a future date when the board wishes to review the policy.

Update the policy to show the approval date.

Communicating HR policy – policy binders/manuals and handbooks

Depending on the size of your organization, its governance structure, and its “style”, you may choose to communicate with employees using policies, procedures, guidelines and/or handbooks.  Often policies are relatively brief, formal and do not describe corresponding procedures. The board of directors approve the policy and the executive director approves procedures and/or handbooks.  Many organizations have separate and distinct policy binders.

Employee Handbooks

An employee handbook describes the organization's policies and procedures. It may have a less formal style, and highlight only the key points of each policy. It may also contain general information about the organization and its priorities. Include a list of the different job classifications, whether positions are covered by a collective agreement, and bargaining status for all groups of employees. Readers can refer to this when they are reading the scope or eligibility sections of a policy. Handbooks may also describe the orientation process for introducing new employees to the organization.

Since the policies and procedures may change from time to time, include a statement that the employer has the right, in its sole discretion, to add, amend, or delete any policy or procedure in its handbook.

An employee handbook can be a useful orientation tool and an important part of the employee's relationship to the employer. A good handbook:

Tools and Templates:

Sample HR Policies:

Sample HR Manual:

This sample Employee Manual provides a summary of key terms and conditions of employment applicable to management employees.

Employee Relations describes key terms and conditions of employment including attendance, access to employee files, recognition, employment separation, issue resolution, orientation, performance management, coaching, corrective action, professional development, professional image, rest and meal periods.

Sample Employee Handbook (DOC 181KB) Perfect for small organizations, this employee handbook covers everything: time away from work, harassment, confidentiality, performance appraisals and more. The handbook is ideally suited as a starting point for organizations without formal HR policies and procedures, or as a reference for those who are updating existing policies.

County of Renfrew – Corporate Policies - An alphabetized list of policies adopted by County Council. Includes procedures and sample forms.

Government of Newfoundland and Labrador – Human Resource Policy Manual - Not from a small organization, but a user-friendly online resource.

For additional policy templates, visit the HR Council for the Nonprofit Sector

There are a number of ways to communicate policies and procedures to employees:

Human Resource Policy and Procedures Manuals

This term is often used for more detailed collections of policy and procedures.

Information Sessions

Holding an information session is a good way to ensure that employees understand a new policy. Outline the decisions that led to the development of the policy, the people who were consulted and any plans for future reviews.

Statements of Understanding

For important policies, you may want to have each employee sign a statement acknowledging that they have received, read, had the opportunity to ask questions, understand, and agree to abide by the policy. If you do this, you must have a plan for consistently ensuring that all current and new employees receive a policy orientation and sign a statement. See sample HR Policy Employee Agreement.


Ensure that each employee has an up-to-date copy of each policy and procedure that is relevant to their job, or that the policies and procedures are kept in a central place where all employees can easily access them. Make sure employees receive any significant updates to policies and ensure that employees sign off that they have read, understood, and agree to abide by the updated policy.

Ongoing Communication

Send short communiqués to all staff members outlining different aspects of a policy that may be misunderstood or omitted in daily work.  Encourage employees to ask their supervisor for information about the policy, particularly about how the policy applies to the individual employee.

Reviewing and updating policies

The board may set a time frame for reviewing policies, or delegate this responsibility. A reasonable period between complete reviews is two to three years.

Policies affected by changes to government legislation should be reviewed as soon as there are any changes to the law. Some organizations have adopted a policy that requires annual policy reviews. This helps them stay in line with legal requirements.

Some changes to policy may be so fundamental that they could attract claims of constructive dismissal. It is critical to provide employees with sufficient notice of any fundamental change in a term or condition of their employment.

Notify employees and provide them with a revised copy when a policy or procedure is updated.

  • Be collective
  • Be consistent
  • Not be unreasonable
  • Be clear and unequivocal
  • Be brought to the attention of the employees before the employer can act upon it
  • Be consistently enforced from the time it was introduced
  • Make employees aware that breach of the rule may result in discipline, up to and including discharge from employment
  • Current laws
  • Funder requirements
  • Any collective agreements that affect your organization
  • Issues that address important concerns and support what your organization represents
  • How have we handled this issue in the past?
  • Does the size of our workforce justify having a policy about this issue?
  • Are we willing to invest the time it takes to keep the policy up to date?
  • What do we hope to accomplish with this policy? What are the outcomes?
  • Will this policy foster something our organization believes in? (For example, if an organization has a "family first" philosophy, it might want to have family-positive policies, such as flexible work hours.)
  • Policy name
  • Effective date of the policy and date of any revisions
  • Approval status (At this stage, the status is "DRAFT.")
  • References (List other policies and documents related to this policy.)
  • Purpose of the policy (what it is intended to promote or achieve)
  • Main policy statement
  • Definitions of any key concepts or terms used in the policy
  • Eligibility or scope (what groups of employees are covered by the policy)
  • How to deal with potential exceptions
  • Positions in the organization responsible for implementing and monitoring the policy
  • Procedures for carrying out the policy, written in numbered steps
  • Section names and numbers
  • Page numbers and total number of pages (Example: "Page 6 of 8.")
  • Headers and footers
  • Provides a framework for fairness and consistency
  • Encourages compliance with the law throughout the organization
  • Allows the employer to rely upon its terms
  • Promotes the organization's philosophy
  • Is a tool for communication and accountability
  • Saves management time on clarifying expectations
  • Creates a positive image of the organization
  • Can serve as a recruitment tool