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Writing it Down: Policies, Procedures, & Guidelines

By Jim Hynes, President, Corporate Legal Consulting LLC

If you employ more than a couple of people, you’ve probably had questions about how company policies should be applied. Putting down company policies in writing can not only help your employees understand what you expect of them and the rewards for their service, but it can also help you ensure you treat people fairly and equally.

This article shares some company policies and procedures tips. As with any legal document, you should have an attorney take a look at what you develop as you want it to strengthen your company, not set you up for a lawsuit down the road!

Official documents that contain policies, procedures, or guidelines must be carefully and precisely written. Often, these materials contain ambiguous or vague terms that present problems down the road. The writer’s knowledge of vocabulary and precise wording is important to the effectiveness of these materials. Although these important concepts are sometimes presented in an informal, easy-to-read format, entertaining the reader has low priority.

When an informal communication design is used, it is especially important to back up the materials with formally written explanations. The final product must focus on clarity and the absence of ambiguity.

Examples are especially helpful in communicating the practical application of policies and guidelines. Examples can be real or fictional, as long as they are realistic and illustrative of the point. Contrasts of good and bad examples go a step further in clarifying the importance of a policy or guideline. Of course, it is important that no individual is identified by name or circumstances in these materials. In the worse case scenario, doing so may subject the company to a libel suit. A more common problem is that the materials appear obsolete if individuals who are identified leave the company.

If employee-training programs are used to communicate understanding of these company standards, then written training materials are advisable. Expensive binding and heavy paper is less important than well-written text and ample room for notes. The training materials should be given to each participant for on-going reference.

One caution: date the materials!
Undated materials can lurk in file cabinets for many years after changes have been made.

Most policies, procedures, and guidelines hold the potential for legal repercussions and should receive a final review by a specialist, such as an attorney, before distribution. This is a prudent final step when setting policies, procedures, and guidelines down in writing.

Corporate Legal Consulting
Corporate Legal Consulting provides practical advice and counsel to small and medium sized companies throughout New England. If you have any questions about your policies and procedures, if you need any assistance with your legal needs, or if you would like a free legal consultation, contact Michael Prior, Senior Project Manager, MassMEP, (508) 831-7020, [email protected].


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