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Creating a Human Resources Policy

A human resources policy is a guiding document that a co-operative will use to manage its people. Depending on the type of co-operative and nature of the work the co-operative performs, human resource policies will look very different. A worker co-operative, for example, will have a very clear set of rules outlining the expectations and limitations of workers, many of which might be included in the bylaws. A consumer co-op or community services co-op that relies on staff to deliver the co-op’s services, will likely resemble that of other organizations in a similar industry.

This guide outlines many of the possible sections that could be included in a human resources policy. Boards or management should select the provisions relevant for their co-operative and ensure the provisions they set are appropriate and comply with the human resources, corporate, or labour laws in their province.​


The purpose of any policy should be clear and relevant to the organization. For a human resources policy, the purpose may be to provide clarity around the expectations of staff of the employer and the commitments of the employers to its staff.

Human Resources Overview

This section should provide an overview of the human resources in the co-operative. It might be useful to think of governance and operations as separate for this purpose, depending on how the co-op delivers its service or achieves its mandate. Depending on the size of the co-op, it might be useful to list the staff positions and profiles or highlight its organizational structure and flow of decision making. This will help create clarity around the structure of the co-op and articulate reporting requirements.

Discipline and Termination

This section should outline how discipline will be administered within the co-operative. Typically, management uses discretion when administering discipline with staff and the board administers discipline with management. Termination can be done at the discretion of management or may require board approval. This section may also detail the process that must be followed when an employee is terminated. There may be distinct provisions for termination with or without cause and in the event of resignation.

Code of Conduct

This section should articulate the minimum expectations of staff/volunteers as they carry out the business of the co-operative. This might list a set of requirements that personnel must complete or include a set of values/principles that guide the nature of the co-operative’s work. For example: staff shall will refrain from using any vulgar or aggressive language when engaging with members. This section may also provide a dress code that staff observe in the workplace.


This section should outline the process of hiring or creating new positions, who is responsible for overseeing recruitment, commitments to anti-discriminatory hiring, and any other processes/training an employee must undergo once they are hired.


This section will articulate how the co-operative will address issues related to accessibility. It may make sense to leave this up to the discretion of the board or management as there are likely too many scenarios that might arise. This provision may also articulate the physical requirements that might conflict with personal accessibility issues and how such issues might be handled. For instance: every effort will be made to accommodate staff that have some form of disability to allow their continued employment.

Hours of Operation

This section should outline the operational hours of the co-operative, the expected working requirements of staff (e.g. 40 hours per week), and any relevant breaks required by labour laws. Depending on the work of the co-op, additional provisions like dealing with overtime, work outside, business hours, irregular requirements, or accommodating extenuating circumstances may be required. In most cases, labour laws will influence the provisions in this section.


An important section of the human resources policy deals with the types of, restrictions placed upon, and details of the various types of leave allowed by the co-operative. This is very different from vacation and includes circumstances that might require staff to request time off. This list gives an overview of the types of leave that might be considered:

  • Sick and stress: Employers are required to accommodate employees with illnesses, but have options on how to do this including sick days, unpaid time-off, or rescheduling hours. There should also be a provision addressing how an employer should request time off due to an illness and if there are expectations for documentation.
  • Pregnancy and parental: Canada allows for parental leave and it is up to organizations to determine if they will offer additional benefits such as a wage top-up. There should be a provision addressing an employee’s return to work.
  • Compassionate/bereavement: Employers must allow staff time off for compassionate leave in the event a member of their family is ill or dies. Organizations must determine the extent and limitations placed on this type of leave and how such leave will impact the employee’s compensation. Administration of the length of this leave could be left to the discretion of management or the board of directors.
  • Professional development: Employers may allow for, or even require, staff to pursue professional development opportunities. There should be provisions outlining if leave granted for professional development will be paid and if the professional development will be paid for by the organization. There may be a spectrum articulated in the policy defining what type of professional development is paid for by the organization. This can be left to the discretion of management or board of directors.
  • Jury and witness duties: Employers are required to grant staff unpaid leave to participate in judicial processes.
  • Volunteer: Some organizations allow staff to take time off to participate in volunteer activities; this might be allowed as unpaid leave and could be left to the discretion of management or the board.
  • Voting: It is best practice to allow employees 3 consecutive hours away from work to ensure they have time to participate in elections. Organizations can determine when this might take place and how to handle payment for those hours.
  • Unpaid: Employers may provide employees with unpaid leave. There should be provisions outlining if this is allowed, the limit on time off, how compensation will be handled, and the process for requesting/approving unpaid leave.


This section should outline how the organization will handle the vacation time staff are entitled to; in most cases, this amounts to 3 weeks per year. This could be allocated on an accrual basis, allocated at once, or paid out over time. If vacation days are allocated, there should be additional provisions for taking time off before it is accrued, carrying over vacation days, requesting time off, handling part-time versus full-time, and dealing with vacation in the event of termination/resignation.


This section should outline the organization’s observed holidays. All co-operatives in Canada must observe any relevant statutory federal or provincial holidays and may use their discretion when observing any other cultural holidays that may be observed by staff or the co-op’s members. This section should clarify whether holidays will be observed through time off or holiday pay.

Harassment, Abuse, and Violence

This section should detail the tolerance and consequences of harassment, abuse, or violence in the workplace. There could be provisions for the discipline taken and the process staff and the board should follow if management/a director commits an offence.


This section should contain provisions related to compensation of staff. Provisions may include:

  • How compensation is set (usually by the board or management).
  • How overtime is handled, whether paid out or if time in-lieu is required.
  • The frequency of and how payment is made to staff
  • If and how additional compensation may be provided in recognition of performance.

Workplace Diversity

Many organizations include a section that states they will promote workplace diversity and prohibit any discriminatory practices. This section may include provisions guiding the organization’s hiring practices and workplace etiquette. A commitment to workplace diversity may also require the organization to adopt policies affecting other sections of this policy, including work arrangements, observed holidays, and code of conduct.

Alternative Work Arrangements

This section will outline the process an employee will pursue to develop alternative work arrangements with the organization and the flexibility of the organization on potential arrangements. The types of alternative arrangements that might be included are flexible scheduling, compressed work week, telecommuting, or reduced hours. In all cases, a provision should consider the requirements of the organization.

Employee Records and Privacy

This section will deal with the handling of employee and member information and the privacy standards the organization will uphold. Employers are required to comply with existing employee privacy legislation and should only request from employees what is necessary for their employment. This provision should detail how employee records will be handled during their employment and when they are no longer employed with the organization; some organizations store employee records while other destroy them after an appropriate period of time. Privacy standards are typically vague in policies as people are encouraged to uphold ‘the highest standards’ when dealing with employee, member, and client data.

Evaluation and Performance

This section will set provisions guiding the evaluation of employees’ performance. This might include the detail and frequency of evaluations, how to handle identified issues or success, and how employees might self-regulate their performance. It is common to leave performance evaluation to the discretion of management. This section might include suggested avenues to correct poor performance or encourage good performance including additional compensation/reward, dismissal/discipline, setting goals, or professional development.

Whistle Blower

An important policy for any organization relates to whistle blowers. This is often its own policy but can be included in the human resources policy. This section should provide for the process an employee can follow when reporting wrong-doing in the co-operative. There should be separate provisions dealing with reporting on staff members, the board, and management. Depending on the industry and nature of the co-operative’s work, reporting to a regulatory agency may be necessary.


This section outlines the processes for when employees or members of the co-operative retire. This typically involves giving discretion to management to sponsor some form of recognition, such as a party, and transition of knowledge/projects to others. Mandating retirement ages is prohibited in Canada.

A Human Resources Policy can be changed by those that create the policy. In many cases, this will be the board of directors, but in larger organizations this may simply fall to management and the administration. Changes to a human resources policy should comply with relevant labour laws as well as the co-op’s bylaws and any other relevant policies. Having an up-to-date human resources policy that is considerate of future possibilities is helpful when management needs to rely on procedure to carry out necessary, and sometimes difficult, tasks.

Enjoy this tool on creating a human resources policy? Then you’ll like our tool on creating a conflict of interest policy or our article on creating the documents your co-op needs.

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