Good-Faith Policy Applications: Building Flexibility into Your Policies

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You’ve probably heard the phrase, “life is what happens when you’re making other plans”—and sometimes that applies to the workplace, too. But is there a place in your business for “good-faith” policy applications in addition to strict policy enforcement? We think there should be.

Of course, your goal is to know that your employee handbook will correctly cover most eventualities. After all, it was created (by an expert, right?) for just that purpose. But even with this tool, the day-to-day reality of managing your business involves human resources. And human situations have a way of not quite fitting into the categories we create for them.

What this means is that you might find yourself wanting a bit of flexibility. You might choose to go beyond (not against) what your policy specifies. And a really good handbook, while providing many firm rules and guidelines, also allows you this flexibility when you need it. Here’s how this might play out in real life.

Bereavement Leave and Policy Flexibility

When you apply a policy in good faith, you assume that your employee has honest intentions, and you, in turn, meet the employee with honest intentions, as well. This is a reasonable assumption unless you have evidence to the contrary, and good faith policy applications allow you to meet diverse situations in a fair and equitable manner.

One example where you might need to make a good-faith application of your policies is in granting leave. Sure, your PTO or vacation policy probably says time off must be requested 30 days in advance but, practically speaking, you probably make exceptions to this all the time.

Take bereavement leave, for example. No one gets 30 days’ notice about a funeral. But if your office can handle the gap, it’s reasonable to allow a bereaved employee to take a day or two of leave without the full advance notice required for normal PTO use.

Although you might have a bereavement policy, you don’t want its wording to be too rigid, because you also need flexibility as a manager. You may not care what the exact familial relationship is, so long as it’s close. You may retain the right to request proof, but not do so except in extreme circumstances. The time granted may differ if your employee is traveling across town versus across the country.

Granting a request also depends on whether it’s reasonable and possible—it’s a different matter if an employee wants ten days of leave or is claiming the loss of their third grandma in three months. As a manager, you want to make good-faith policy applications when your employees are making good-faith requests.

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Sick Leave, Mental Health Days, and Other Circumstances

Sick days present another situation where you don’t want your hands tied. Maybe your state mandates your minimum paid or unpaid sick leave policy requirements, or maybe it’s up to you — either way, chances are you’ve occasionally had an employee whose sick time ran out before their nose did. Should you deny all requests for extra time, even if that might mean exposing your patients to contagions? Probably not. What you want is the flexibility to make good-faith applications of your policies, using your written rules as a baseline to make sound judgment calls.

Granting an occasional mental health day can be important, too. Sometimes an otherwise solid employee may seem burnt out or need to deal with something exceptionally difficult in their personal life. Better a sudden schedule adjustment than a meltdown in front of your patients, a mistake in the exam room, or an hour of break-room bawling. This is another situation where it’s sometimes in your best interest to apply a policy in good faith, to cover reasonable requests or unforeseen circumstances.

There are plenty of other situations where you want to keep the flexibility to make judgment calls. In fact, this is one reason why “three-strikes-and-you’re-out” discipline policies are a bad idea. You don’t want to be forced into a decision you don’t want to make, like terminating a good employee because of overly rigid wording in your own policy. The purpose of your employee handbook is to help you manage and make sound decisions for your practice – not to tie your hands.

If your handbook follows HR best practices and you know that it’s legally compliant, then in many cases your policies themselves should already avoid being too specific in situations where it’s not advisable. Flexibility to make reasoned and reasonable choices is part of your prerogative as manager.

“Good-Faith” Doesn’t Mean Inconsistent

Whatever is prompting your decisions in a particular case, note that a good-faith policy application doesn’t mean your actions should be inconsistent in similar circumstances. You still want to follow the guidelines in your handbook and treat employees fairly and consistently across the board. You’ll also still want to document your management decisions. Then if you discover that a particular employee is actually making bad-faith requests or abusing your policies, you’ll have the data you need to take appropriate action.

May 29, 2019

Friendly Disclaimer: This information is general in nature and is not intended to provide legal advice or replace individual guidance about a specific issue with an attorney or HR expert. The information on this page is general human resources guidance that is believed to be current as of the date of publication. Note that CEDR is not a law firm, and as the law is always changing, you should consult with a qualified attorney or HR expert who is familiar with all of the facts of your situation before making a decision about any human resources or employment law matter.
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