It is time to rethink how we write HR policies?

A few weeks ago, an employee asked me to write a letter to get her out of jury service as the trial had the potential to go on for three weeks and our policy, like so many other organisations, only allows for five days jury service leave. Any more than five days and the employee, in the past, has been required to take annual leave. This employee did not have enough annual leave to cover the expected time she would be off work on Jury Service and she simply could not afford to take unpaid leave. She had a mortgage to pay and a family to feed.

To be honest, when I actually read the policy I was pretty horrified. It was old school, punitive and included the following phrases:

An employee must report back to work on any day he/she has been excused early, or is not required for jury duty service and immediately at the end of the jury service. All monies received from the Court will then be deducted from the next pay.

Monies paid to reimburse expenses will be exempt from this “claw-back”. Failure to follow the conditions above will result in the Jury Service Leave being treated as unpaid leave and pay adjusted accordingly.

This started me thinking about why employers write policies like this? And I came to the conclusion that there were two things that really bothered me about the policies I was reading. The first thing which really bothered me was the language used in HR policies, which often takes a punitive and directive tone. They are impersonal, referring to people as Employees or Personnel (capitals intended) rather than saying ‘you’ and ‘we’ which clearly indicates employees are not to be trusted.

It’s this kind of wording that puts people off HR. I don’t want to dis the HR function; I regularly see some incredible examples of companies taking a more humanistic and people centred approach to HR.

This week one of my fabulous team members showed me the awesome new annual contracts Aurecon put in place this year. They speak in plain language and as you read their contracts and policies, it is obvious that they actually like, value and trust their people and treat them as adults.

The second thing that really annoyed me about the older contracts I was reading which had apparently not been updated for quite some time was the fact that Jury Service is not a holiday. Not only do the courts take a dim view of employers trying to get staff out of Jury Service, but more importantly as a good corporate citizen, we should be allowing our people to sit on juries if they are called up. And we shouldn’t be asking our people to use annual leave to do it. Jury Service is a civic responsibility and not a holiday.

I'm done with the policy that says that if employees receive a small amount for a bus fare or parking, that they need to pay it back to the employer and have it deducted from their salary. Parking in the city is ridiculously expensive so if they get a small cheque to cover it, they should be able to keep it.

When I presented these points to our senior executive team, it didn’t take long for them to agree to pay all employees their full pay while on Jury Service and to let them keep their parking money, adding that it was ‘a no-brainer’. And that is the thing with most senior managers: they actually do want to do the right thing for their people and are most likely unaware of the details of any of the HR policies which exist in the first place.

So now we have a far fairer policy for our people in Jury Service and all it took was a little common sense.

For those who may be interested in adopting it, here are the details of our policy.

At Douglas, we consider jury service to be a civic responsibility. Therefore, we encourage you to serve if you are called for jury duty.

If you are summonsed, please let your manager know as soon as possible. We will continue to pay you in full for each day that you serve on the jury. If you are excused early or are not required to serve before 2pm, please return to work.

Parking in the city is expensive so if you do receive a fee from the Department of Justice to cover the parking, you can keep it.

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