February 25th, 2020

Rules Are Good for HR: Here’s Why

HR is responsible for much more than just collecting and organizing paperwork. Often HR is responsible for establishing and upholding organizational rules—for good reason. Its role in any given organization is to keep employees fulfilled, satisfied, and motivated. That said, it takes a lot of structure to create a healthy and productive work environment, and the world’s best HR professionals rely on a strong policy framework to help them do it — in other words, rules. Strong rules establish clear rights and responsibilities for all employees, eliminating confusion and actually empowering them to do their best work without doubt or hesitation.

Who Needs More Rules? Well, Actually… You Do!

“But wait,” you’re probably saying to yourself as you read this, “if HR is supposed to keep employees satisfied, why do we need more rules? Everybody hates rules!” Not true — in fact, the data suggests that employees at most companies actually thrive when they’re given clear guidelines. Take a look at the importance of onboarding, for example (the process by which an organization teaches new hires the skills and behaviors necessary for them to perform their duties effectively). Onboarding is typically the time when new employees become aware of company-specific policies and guidelines that will shape the way they work, so you’d expect employers to invest a lot of time in the way they structure it. After all, 53% of HR pros say improved onboarding increases employee engagement. But what’s this? A whopping 76% of the same people say that onboarding practices are underutilized in their organizations! Why the discrepancy?

The concept is simple enough to grasp: more structure in your organization means more support for employees, which in turn makes for better workers and less turnover. The problem is simply that many HR pros aren’t sure of exactly how that structure should look. It’s time to stop wondering whether your HR department should have rules (the answer is yes), and to start thinking about what those rules should be.

HR Rules That Can Help Your Organization

The most useful HR rules exist for one of two reasons: either they keep the company compliant with relevant laws, or they facilitate best practices for employees (including the people who work in HR itself). After all, staying compliant with the law is only part of creating an effective HR structure. It’s also vital to make sure that you’re establishing policies that create a more comfortable and productive workplace culture.

Here are a few areas that we suggest HR professionals focus on when coming up with rules for their organizations. Some of these are aimed at legal compliance, while others are simply intended to help you create a more harmonious workplace.

Make Sure All Employees Have Proper Documentation

One thing you’ll want to do right away is come up with policies for collecting I-9 documentation from all company employees. Employers are required to file this paperwork for each person they hire, and failure to do so can have consequences. First-time fines are often less than $100, but they can increase to over $2000 for serious violations or repeat offenders.

Rules regarding I-9 collection are certainly important, but you also have to be careful about the way you write them. Remember: organizations must also abide by federal anti-discrimination laws, which prevent them from:

  • Asking to see documentation before the person in question accepts a job offer
  • Declining to accept documentation or hire someone because a document will expire in the future
  • Refusing acceptable receipts
  • Demanding specific documents for form I-9
  • Demanding specific documents in order to create an E-Verify case (even when there has been a tentative non-confirmation)

Keep Wages and Hours Compliant

Since payroll is an integral function of HR, you’ll also need to set rules for wages and hours. Keeping these rules consistent with applicable regulations helps protect your entire organization, and keeps employees confident that they’ll be paid fairly for their work. Be advised that while the federal minimum wage is only $7.25 per hour at the time of this writing, individual states have their own legislation as well. You’ll also have to make sure that you observe the 40-hour workweek and stay within the legal requirements for child labor and overtime pay.

Go Above and Beyond with Benefits

Benefits can be an incredible incentive for employees, but only if they actually offer something your employees want. Furthermore, it’s almost impossible to put together a really competitive benefits package without doing some careful financial planning. Take health plans, for instance: will you choose HMOs, PPOs, high-deductible plans, point-of-service plans, or self-insurance? Each option comes with its own pros and cons, and the money you spend on health insurance will also affect what’s left in the budget for other perks like paid vacations. Keep wellness programs in mind too, since nearly 90% of employees at businesses with wellness initiatives say they’d be more likely to recommend working for those companies.

In addition to choosing what benefits you offer, you’ll also have to establish rules for the way you deal with the benefits information you collect on behalf of each employee. Remember, for example, that medical records have to stay private and must be kept separately instead of being included with personnel files.

Prioritize Workplace Safety

Workplace safety is another area where clear rules serve dual purposes. Not only will they reduce the risk for employees and liability for your organization; there’s also plenty of data that supports a link between workplace safety and better employee performance. In other words, rules that make your employees safer also help them work harder. Everybody wins!

We suggest putting your workplace safety information in highly visible areas and holding regular meetings to remind employees of safe practices (as opposed to emails, which can too easily be missed or ignored). These easy and inexpensive steps can boost morale and save you a ton of money since the total cost of an injury in the workplace is much higher than most employers realize and includes things like administrative costs, medical bills, and fines.

Establish Workplace Romance Rules

Sure, office romances might sound steamy and exciting at first — but if they do, that’s probably because you’ve never seen what happens one ends badly. Cue the industrial-strength passive aggression, awkward tension so thick you won’t even be able to cut it with the office paper trimmer, and career-threatening rumors that would make Hester Prynne’s public ostracism in The Scarlet Letter seem like an employee of the month award. Okay, maybe we’re exaggerating a little, but all of those things really can happen when workplace romances aren’t guided by strong policies. Even so, 54% of companies don’t have workplace romance rules (which is probably why they get such a bad rap to begin with).

Specific rules governing office romances will depend on the nature and character of each individual organization, but we have some good general ideas to offer. For example, it’s best to discourage employees from making romantic gestures or displaying romantic interest for someone at work in any way that could expose or embarrass them. Many companies also stipulate that employees can ask out a co-worker once, but that they must stop if they are turned down (or given an answer that is anything but a clear “yes”). Not long ago, dating expert Patti Stanger drafted six general rules to help employees navigate office romances. It stresses the importance of separating professional business from relationship issues and may serve as a useful basis for drafting your company’s own workplace relationship policy.


Rules don’t always seem like fun, but the trouble they’ll save you in the long run makes them well worth having. Clear policies are especially important when it comes to HR, since the people who work at your business are some of the most valuable — and sensitive — assets you have. Protect your talent, your company, and yourself by making sure you have clear guidelines in place to manage legal compliance, incentives, and personal behavior in the office. Doing so will help you create the kind of professional environment that people feel safe, comfortable, and excited to work in every day.

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