Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Don't Copy Policies

There are well publicized incidents these days of plagiarism. Stories of people in universities and print media come to mind. But what if someone copies a policy or handbook from another company or the Internet? You may not run afoul of copyrights, but there are many other risks and problems such a practice can bring about. Following are a few examples:

· “Borrowed” handbooks or copying someone else’s policy can cause problems if there are unique standards or rules that should be communicated but are missing. Also, if some other policies should not be there, they may be adopted by mistake.

· A use of impersonal, third person or “legal-like” language may cause someone to think it actually is a contract.

· The employer may accidently imply promises of employment security (e.g., phrases used like “permanent employee…” Also an employer may say things that inadvertently promise employment security (e.g., “You’ll have a job here as long as you perform well”).

· Similarly, resist the urge to publish a policy just because it sounds good, when there is actually no support for it. It can be very difficult later if the organization publishes a grievance process that management may later disregard.

· Policies may contain absolute or “zero tolerance” wording and may require a “proof” standard. Mandatory wording (e.g., “shall” and “will”) conveys a commitment. It is better to use discretionary words (e.g., “may”).

Word to the wise: jurors cannot take a transcript of court testimony into the deliberation
room, but can take a copy of the employee handbook.

Organizational leaders generally and HR managers specifically have an opportunity to
influence the content and handling of policies and avoid many problems.