Time to Startup!

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7 Tips for Developing Workplace Rules for Your Small Business

Published on Dec 7, 2010


Read 7 Tips for Developing Workplace Rules for Your Small Business at 'Time to Start Up,' the small business blog by BizFilings.
If you work by yourself and for yourself, then you won't need any workplace rules (unless you really lack discipline). In pretty much every other situation, some rules are necessary to put in place to promote peace and harmony.rules_opt Rules can be divided into necessary and optional, reasonable and unreasonable, and helpful and unhelpful - and which goes where is often a matter of opinion; but not always. Some workplace rules are legally required and must be enforced and in many cases posted prominently in the workplace. These include state and federal statutes regarding harassment (especially sexual harassment), smoking, drugs and alcohol use in the workplace, federal minimum wage guidelines, and family and medical leave guarantees. The nature of your business and other unique aspects of your situation will determine what rules are needed beyond those that are legally required. 'Optional' rules Though additional rules might not be legally mandated, they are often essential to creating and maintaining a productive and healthy work environment. What's your policy on employee theft, and where is the line drawn? How about insubordination, gambling or violence in the workplace? In each case, definitions and consequences should be made as clear as possible. Is there a dress code? If so, spell it out. Is it OK for Melanie to sell her daughter's Girl Scout cookies at work? A rule makes it easier to be consistent. What about music in the workplace? Can I bring in my jumbo speakers? How about moonlighting? Use of employer's equipment for personal purposes? The importance of some policies will be crystal clear from day one. Others will reveal their importance along the way, so you should see policy creation as an ongoing process that grows with your business and your experience. Bad rules As important as creating good rules is avoiding bad ones. Rules that are perceived to be unfair or overly controlling can foster resentment and negatively impact engagement and productivity. Overly restrictive work rules are nothing but trouble. They create unnecessary hardship for employees and make you seem unreasonable and apathetic about their feelings and needs. There are a number of things that can be done to help ensure that work rules aren't perceived to be unduly restrictive. Get input from your employees in creating work rules: if they are involved in the process, employees are more likely to accept and abide by the work rules. Make sure that all of your rules have a sound business justification: not only will this make rules seem more appropriate, but it may help you avoid creating rules that have an unfair impact on certain protected groups of employees. When considering a specific rule or policy, here are seven questions to ask yourself:
  1. Will this policy disproportionately impact one employee or group?
  2. Is this policy really necessary considering the work that my employees do?
  3. Is this policy unduly restrictive or overbearing?
  4. Is there a sound business justification for this policy?
  5. Are you willing to enforce this policy?
  6. Will the time and effort necessary to administer and enforce this policy outweigh the benefit of having it?
  7. What would the consequences be for someone who broke the rule?
It is especially important to avoid rules that create a discriminatory environment. A common example is an "English-only" rule that forbids speaking any other language in the workplace. If you are subject to federal antidiscrimination laws, English-only rules are presumed to be discriminatory unless you can show a clear and compellng reason for the rule, such as safety or security. Rationale behind the rules Finally, all good rules have a rationale that drives them. If you have asked your employees to follow a particular rule or policy, you should be able to give any employee who asks a good, sound reason for having that rule. Just to keep yourself honest, invite your employees to ask questions whenever they are unclear about why a rule exists. The reasons should be clearly related to the employee's job, and you should not impose personal opinions or beliefs on your employees in the guise of work rules. How did you go about developing rules for your small business environment? What advice would you offer to other small business owners looking to hire employees?