The Importance of Written Procedures

I have heard it argued that a mission or shelter is better off having no written procedures than to have them and not adhere to them. This argument maintains that a court of law would, therefore, be unable to prove that the staff and/or volunteers did anything inconsistent with the organization’s procedures since there is nothing in writing. In essence, this is to suggest that the staff and/or volunteers would lie to a court of law and insinuate that the negligent behavior was acceptable since there was no written procedure in place to propose otherwise. This reasoning would not hold up in court as the question would merely be asked if the behavior had ever been exhibited before and, if so, was it acceptable to the leadership of the mission. More importantly, would be the question of whether the behavior was negligent in and of its own merits, regardless of what procedures are in writing.

So, is it beneficial to have written procedures at all? Absolutely! Procedures should be in writing, both in the form of an Employee Manual and an Operational Manual. The Employee Manual should include such information as the mission or shelter’s terms of employment: when is payday, how many sick days are allowed, hours of operations, anti-harassment policies, benefits provided, proper dress attire, and all matters related to the terms of employment as well as behavior that may result in termination.

An Operational Manual should include as much of the “why’s”, “how’s, and “where’s” of your operations as possible: how vehicles are to be used, how the bailing machine is to be safely operated, what driving record is acceptable for volunteers or staff to operate the mission van, what is the procedure for the desk man to use if a guest is inebriated, how old food may be before it must be disposed of, what is the procedure for handling guest medications, etc.

What is the best way to assemble such manuals? There are many resources available, both internally and externally to your mission. Internally, your people are a great resource. Ask them to write down what they do and how they do it. Collect narratives, review them with your leadership, resolve discrepancies, agree on best practices, codify your agreed-upon procedures, disseminate to and educate affected personnel, bind all into manuals, review periodically and amend as appropriate. Externally, Merriam Insurance maintains Best Practices documents, and provides templates through its Risk Management Portal, and there is always the Internet for innumerable samples.

This “living” document will not only guide your staff and volunteers to know what is expected, but it will be a great defense in a court of law in order to demonstrate the consistency with which you apply your procedures.

Brian H. Merriam, CPCU, ARM, AAI
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