The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

7 Must-Have Policies for Higher Ed Institutions

This article was contributed by the National Association of College and University Attorneys (NACUA). Be sure to check out NACUA’s session on the topic of collaborating with campus lawyers at the CUPA-HR Annual Conference and Expo 2013 in Las Vegas, October 27-29.

policyWith the ever-growing list of federal, state and local laws, creating an environment that promotes institutional compliance is a priority and an obligation for HR departments and general counsel alike. HR and counsel often must work together on a wide range of matters, including developing and updating a variety of institutional policies that serve to protect both the institution and its workforce. Here are seven policies that every institution should have in place (and they all need to be a collaborative effort between HR and campus lawyers):

  1. Policy Prohibiting Discrimination and Harassment. A number of different federal and state laws address an employer’s obligation to take appropriate steps to maintain a discrimination-free environment and to respond appropriately when a complaint is made. Maintaining a policy that complies with those laws not only will help your organization prevent and respond to claims, but also will put your institution in a stronger position in the event of a claim. Your campus lawyer can review your policy to ensure that it covers the various types of discrimination and harassment that are prohibited by law, prohibits retaliation against those who complain or participate in investigations, addresses the complaint and investigation process, and otherwise incorporates requirements and best practices established under this constantly evolving area of the law.
  2. Whistleblower Policy. In today’s climate, our institutions are expected to prohibit illegal behavior and to allow, and indeed encourage, employees to complain about illegal behavior without fear of retaliation. Your whistleblower policy is one of many ways in which your organization can set the “tone at the top,” ensure compliance with the various laws that protect whistleblowers, and lay out an effective response process in the event of a complaint.
  3. Leave Management Policy. Leave management is one of the trickiest areas for HR professionals. An employer’s obligations are governed by many different laws, ranging from the federal FMLA and ADA to various state law counterparts (which often diverge from federal law in significant ways) and other state-specific statutes addressing various leave-related requirements. Your campus counsel can review your policies to ensure that they comply with the laws applicable to your jurisdiction and also to help you to coordinate the administration of an employee’s varied leave rights and obligations.
  4. Background Check Policy. Many employers require the successful completion of a criminal background check as a condition of employment and, for some positions, the successful completion of a credit check. While these policies can be effective tools to promote safety and to avoid and manage risk, they also can create pitfalls for an organization if they are not written and implemented in a manner consistent with the various laws that apply.
  5. Conflict of Interest Policy. Over the last few years, faculty and some staff have been resourceful in finding ways to supplement their income. Often, their choices compete with their full-time work for the institution in ways damaging to their students and colleagues. Conflict of interest policies must be up to the task of prioritizing an employee’s work for the institution over outside work and promoting compliance with the requirements of applicable conflicts laws.
  6. Dispute Resolution Policy. HR and general counsel should work together to regularly review and, if necessary, revise campus grievance and dispute resolution processes.
  7. Performance Evaluation Policy. The performance management arena can be highly volatile and can produce a thicket of legal issues that must be traversed. Campus lawyers can assist in drafting policies that provide supervisors and those they supervise with a clear, reliable and consistent process.

Which policies are deemed “must-have” at your institution? Do HR and general counsel collaborate on these policies? Tell us in the comments below! And if you’ll be in Las Vegas for the CUPA-HR Annual Conference and Expo 2013, check out the session “HR and General Counsel: Campus Lawyers Are Here to Help” to learn how HR and counsel can effectively work together.