Policies and procedures: Get them in writing

Janet Arrowood

You probably have a number of activities in your workplace that are repetitive, process-driven and require specific performance. These are the sorts of activities that should be documented in the form of policies and procedures (P&P) or standard operating procedures (SOP).

Your P&Ps and SOPs have many applications. But one thing all P&Ps and SOPs have in common is they need to be written in active voice to ensure employees consider themselves responsible for performing or complying with the activities.

Human resources: Your P&Ps and SOPs can be used to document a variety of HR activities and roles. You might want to create policies for onboarding and out-processing employees, handling company sensitive information or employee termination as well as general company policies and procedures.

Safety and operational activities and requirements: If your operation is subject to Occupational Safety and Health or Mine Safety and Health Administration oversight, many documentation requirements involve P&Ps and SOPs, often in the form of an employee handbook. Both OSHA and MSHA perform work place audits. Your P&Ps and SOPs can play an important role in passing these audits.

Operating company provided equipment: While it’s easy to assume everybody knows how to start up and shut down such equipment as computers, system and operational security often require additional steps to ensure critical data remains secure. P&Ps or SOPs ensure employees and contractors do things the same way every time. Perhaps you have company vehicles and want to ensure they’re taken care of properly. SOPs offer an excellent way to communicate how your company expects employees to handle vehicle use.

Manufacturing processes: If your company runs production or assembly lines, you need P&Ps or SOPs for each operation. A good approach is to walk the floor, having a person unfamiliar with the operation go around with someone familiar with the operation. The person who doesn’t know the procedures tries to capture the entire procedure based on what they see and hear, asking the experienced person and actual operators lots of questions. When something is unclear, the operative question becomes, “Can you please show me how?” Then the entire process can be documented in a P&P or SOP almost anyone can follow and implement. It can be helpful to include photographs.

Maintenance operations: Vehicles come with owner’s manuals.
Companies should have similar documentation in the form of P&Ps and SOPs for all ehicles and equipment that have ongoing, scheduled and unpredictable maintenance requirements. Creating these guides ensures equipment is treated properly and the same way every time. 

Virtual and remote work: It appears remote work is here to stay. P&Ps and SOPs are invaluable in ensuring smooth and effective operations and setting uniform expectations for remote, virtual or offsite employees and contractors. Without them, it could be difficult to verify people are working when you expect them to be on the clock. P&Ps and SOPs set expectations for check-in times, Zoom meetings and virtual polling processes to validate people are actually logged in and responding to requirements and requests in real time.

The best time to have P&Ps and SOPs is before you need them. Creating them after the fact could be way too late.

This column provides a far from complete list of the P&Ps and SOPs your company might need. In addition, this column is not intended to offer legal advice.