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15 Must-Have HR Policies and Forms

15 Must-Have HR Policies and Forms

Disseminating and storing the right employment information and documentation can help demonstrate compliance with federal, state, and local laws. Below are some "must-have" policies and forms.

Workplace Policies:

Some laws require employers to communicate workplace information to employees in writing. In the absence of a specific requirement, employers should also implement policies that communicate company expectations and benefits. While the contents of your company's handbook will depend on a number of factors, including your company's size, industry, and location, consider including these key policies:

  1. At-will employment. This statement reiterates that either you or the employee can terminate the employment relationship at any time and for any reason, as long as the reason is a lawful one. It is a best practice to prominently display this statement in the beginning of your employee handbook (except in Montana, where at-will employment is not recognized). Reinforce at-will status in your handbook acknowledgment form as well.
  2. Anti-harassment and non-discrimination. These policies prohibit harassment and discrimination in the workplace. Non-discrimination laws are governed by federal, state and local provisions, so review your applicable law and account for all appropriate protections.
  3. Employment classifications. It is a best practice to clearly define employment classifications, such as full-time, part-time, exempt or non-exempt since an employee's classification can dictate eligibility for benefits and overtime pay.
  4. Leave and time off benefits. These policies address a company's rules and procedures regarding holidays, vacation, sick, and other types of time off benefits, or leave required by law (such as voting leave, family leave, and domestic violence leave) or company policy. Check your state and local law to ensure all leave requirements are included in your employee handbook.
  5. Meal and break periods. A policy on meal and break periods informs employees of the frequency and duration of such breaks as well as any rules or restrictions related to break periods. Rest periods, lactation breaks, and meal periods must be provided in accordance with federal, state and local laws.
  6. Timekeeping and pay. A timekeeping policy informs employees of the method for recording time worked and the importance of accurately recording their time. A policy on paydays lets employees know the frequency of paydays, the methods available for receiving pay, and any special procedures for when a payday falls on a holiday or when an employee is absent from work.
  7. Safety and health. Safety policies describe safety and emergency procedures and require employees to report work-related injuries immediately. Additionally, some regulations under the Occupational Safety and Health Act require employers to have specific policies and programs in place if certain workplace hazards exist (such as a hazard communication program if certain chemicals are present in the workplace).
  8. Employee conduct, attendance and punctuality. Attendance policies make it clear that employees must be ready to work at their scheduled start time each day and provide procedures for informing the company of an unscheduled absence or late arrival. It is also a best practice to have policies on standards of conduct, drug and alcohol abuse, disciplinary action, confidentiality, conflicts of interest, and workplace violence.

Forms & Documents:

Employers must maintain certain records to comply with federal, state, and local laws and to help administer HR policies and practices. Depending on the nature of the form, these documents should either be retained in the employee's personnel file, or a separate confidential file. Here are some key forms to consider:

  1. Hiring forms. There are a variety of forms that can help you identify qualified candidates during the pre-hire process, such as a job application and candidate evaluation form. Once a candidate is hired, you must complete certain new hire paperwork, including a Form W-4 and a Form I-9. Additionally, certain notices must be provided to new hires.
  2. Receipt of company property. If you provide employees with equipment, tools, or other company property, use this form to document what was provided to the employee. This can help ensure that all property is returned and accounted for at the time of separation.
  3. Handbook acknowledgments. When an employee signs this form, he or she acknowledges that they are responsible for reading and complying with all company policies. Obtain signed acknowledgments when you first issue the handbook, at the time of hire for new employees, and whenever you make changes to the handbook.
  4. Leave of absence. Have employees submit requests for time off or other types of leave in writing. In some cases, the federal government or your state government may provide sample forms, such as those used for Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) purposes.
  5. Reasonable accommodation requests. Federal and some state laws require employers to provide reasonable accommodations for applicants and employees with disabilities, or sincerely held religious beliefs and practices. While employees aren't required to make reasonable accommodation requests in writing, employers should thoroughly document the request, all communications regarding the request, and the resulting accommodation.
  6. Performance and discipline. Document all performance and disciplinary events, whether positive or negative. This includes annual performance reviews, recognitions received, promotions, and disciplinary action, such as written and oral warnings and performance improvement plans.
  7. Business expenses. If employees travel for work, or incur other business-related expenses, have them maintain an expense log and submit reimbursement requests in writing.


This is an overview of some commonly used policies and documents. Your size, location, and industry may dictate whether you must provide additional written information to employees. When making this determination, consider your business practices as well as all applicable federal, state, and local laws.

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