Do You Have Defined Work Rules?

By Robin Stevens, Internal Operations Coach

Managing team members in your workplace effectively necessitates that even the smallest of businesses set up work rules. Work rules protect your business and your workers and if correctly implemented and executed, create and maintain a better work environment for all.

For small businesses, most work rules will be optional. However, federal and state laws may require your business to have and to post policies regarding certain workplace issues such as smoking, drugs and alcohol, and sexual harassment. In the areas that are regulated by law, you have no choice but to comply by instituting workplace rules.

So, why should you have work rules that aren't required? It's tempting to feel that, if work rules aren't required by law, there's no reason to bother with them. However, while you may save yourself some time initially by not worrying about work rules, chances are that not having them will cause you some problems in the future, particularly if you have at least a handful of team members.

Having formal work rules in your business, even if they're not required, is a good idea because they can help you protect your business from litigation and maintain a high quality of work life for your team members. You need to make sure that your team members understand their responsibility within their position, not only in the work that they do, but in their behavior and in other areas of your employment relationship. If the rules are carefully selected, clearly related to the business, and fairly enforced, they can help you to better manage your workplace and your team members.

Apart from the required rules and policies, you basically have free reign to choose additional rules to help you manage your team members. Once you've taken care of the policies that are required, you can focus on choosing from the many other rules that are optional but that are, in many cases, a good idea to have.

While the rules that govern each team member's conduct must reflect the kind of work your business does and the conditions under which it is performed, there are some basic rules that you'll see over and over again if you ask businesses about their work rules and policies.

Employers can choose to have a simple set of work rules made up of a list of generally accepted and prohibited conduct or they may decide to have very detailed work rules and policies addressing specific behavior. Instead of having a lengthy, involved set of rules, small employers are likely to opt for a simple list of rules and guidelines to make it clear to team members what kind of behavior is expected.

You should keep the rules as general as possible, to give yourself as much flexibility as possible in enforcing them. Your work rules should reflect your individualism as a businessperson and the individuality of your business. You can create a simple one- or two-page handout or a more detailed handbook that you give to each person as you hire them, covering such things as:

It always helps to have a HR professional review your handbook for proper language and law. Also, look into resources available to you through your insurance company, local employers association and SHRM (Society for Human Resource Managment)


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