When implementing a new management system based on the ISO standards, whether it is a quality management system, environmental management system, information security management system, etc., experts usually invoke the “Grandfather Clause” as a way to relieve the enforcement of some requirements.
But is the Grandfather Clause really a free pass to forgo the need for any future records? When, where, and how often can the Grandfather Clause be invoked?
The Grandfather Clause
The Grandfather Clause is statement that an organization makes to declare that, before a specific date, certain individuals or processes do not comply with company rules or regulations.
The Grandfather Clause has 3 basic components:
[Individual or Process] + [Area of Grandfathering] + [Date]
Here is an example of a Grandfather Clause taken from an excerpt in a Quality Manual:
The effective implementation of the Quality Management System is September 1st, 2012. This date is also used for grandfathering* of suppliers, employees, and records.
* The Grandfather Clause is used as a way to grant exemptions to all those who were part of the organization before the new QMS rules went into effect.
And here is another example taken from a Human Resources procedure:
All employees who were part of Mireaux Management Solutions on or before September 1st, 2012 are considered grandfathered in terms of education and experience and therefore are competent to perform their duties and responsibilities.
These are, of course, just examples. The Grandfather Clause can be worded many ways to suit your needs.
When an organization is seeking ISO certification, whether it is ISO 9001, ISO 27001, ISO 14001, etc., it is understandable that there may be some new rules that were not enforced before. The Grandfather Clause is a way for the organization to recognize that things were done differently before ISO requirements were instituted. It is a way for the organization to approve those people and processes based on historical performance and to accept that they are basically “okay” to continue being part of the organization.
When to use the Grandfather Clause?
You may use the Grandfather Clause whenever you really want to exempt people or processes from scrutiny in regard to its past. Plainly said, if you have a Mechanic who has been working at your facility for 20 years, he must be doing something right; therefore you cannot just fire him because he does not fit the requirements of the newly instituted job descriptions. With so much experience under his belt, you accept the fact that he does not have a college degree (if that’s what the new Job Description requires). Therefore, going forward, you will hire new mechanics who meet the job description requirements and have college degrees, but right now, you will keep your Mechanic on the basis of his experience and tenure with your organization.
Similarly you can use the Grandfather Clause to grandfather your processes. For example, you may want to grandfather your engineering processes if you know that, prior to a certain date, your drawings, design reviews, and design validations did not exactly follow the new procedures established. In compliance with ISO’s design and development requirements, you accept that, moving forward, you will abide by the letter of your procedures, but before the Grandfathering date, you cannot guarantee that everything will have been done according to your new procedures.
How many times can I use the Grandfather Clause?
Obviously, you want to invoke the Grandfather Clause only once. Usually we recommend that our clients set the Grandfather Clause date to a specific date of the first year they are going for certification. That seems like a natural dividing line: “Before this date, we were not complying with ISO standards, and so ISO standards didn’t apply; now that we’ve decided to seek ISO certification, the standards all apply.”
I definitely do not recommend that you invoke the Grandfather Clause more than 3 times or much less that you keep shifting the date forward as the time passes. That would defeat the purpose of the clause, and make it seem as though you were looking for excuses to not meet the requirements of the standard rather than honestly saying you were not in conformance before.
Would Registrars accept use the Grandfather Clause?
Yes, registrars are fine with the Grandfather Clause. In fact, in our consulting firm, we use the Grandfather Clause all the time. However, leaning on the Grandfather Clause too often may give the impression that an organization is trying to dodge responsibility, and so we plan our Grandfather Clause statements and dates carefully. And once we reach that date, by all means, we make sure everyone enforces it. Whether it is people or processes, we make sure all is in order. If anyone new is hired, we will ensure that their education, training, skills, and experience match those established in Job Descriptions or that there are signed waivers if anything differs. Or, if we have a new supplier, we make sure that this supplier was approved following the Supply Chain procedure or process.
It is worth to emphasize that most registrars want to see at least 3 months of solid use of your Management System. Therefore, in theory, your Grandfathering date should not be less than 3 months before the date of your Initial Visit or Stage 1 audit (in case of brand new certifications).
Can records be avoided when using Grandfather clause?
Ah, at last, some people wonder whether using the Grandfather Clause is a free pass to forgo records. The basic answer is NO. You still need the records. Granted, those records may lack certain objective evidence, but that’s exactly where the Grandfather Clause comes in.
Let’s go back to our Mechanic example. You still need to have a personnel file (hard copy or electronic) with the employee’s application, resume, training records, etc. Obviously, in our example, those records will show that he does not have a college degree. That’s when you invoke the Grandfather Clause. But what if he never filled out an application or does not have a resume? Well, you should probably have some paper to show at least when he was hired and, at minimum, you will need to have training records – even if all training records contain only records that he was trained in the new ISO program and procedures.
So, were you Grandfathered?
Well, now you have a better understanding of what the Grandfather Clause means and when you can use it. The goal is to continually improve, not to look for excuses. So remember, use the Grandfather Clause carefully and you will help your management system succeed!
This article was published by Quality Digest on 09/12/2013.