What are workplace policies and procedures?
Workplace policies and procedures are a crucial part of any business and human resource function. They enable the business to communicate to the workers how the management team will deal with issues in the workplace. Policies and procedures also allow the business to clearly set out the expected standards of behavior and conduct. A workplace procedure will also go over the steps that the business will need to follow and/or the employee will need to go through when a certain situation arises e.g. applying for leave or raising a complaint.
Why are policies and procedures important?
Having policies implemented into the business, it ensures that employees understand what is expected of them whilst they are at work and how they should behave. They also walk through the potential consequences and implications if these standards do not comply with e.g. disciplinary action.
Workplace policies are also an important step in demonstrating that the business has met certain legal obligations as an employer. For example, employers have a duty of care to ensure that employees/workers are provided with a safe working environment. A Workplace Health and Safety Policy allows the business to set out the measures that have been put in place to safeguard workers and how safety issues will be dealt with.
Employers can also become vicariously liable (i.e. legally responsible for the wrongdoing of their employees) if an issue relating to discrimination, harassment, or bullying occurs within the workplace and adequate processes were not put in place to prevent such behaviour from occurring. Having a policy in place that indicates that sexual harassment and bullying are not tolerated in the workplace (for example) may help an employer avoid liability if such conduct does occur. If no policies are in place, then an employer will nearly always be held liable (even if they didn’t know the conduct was occurring) because a court will consider they could have done more to clearly tell employees that the conduct was not allowed.
Some states or territories (NSW and ACT) require the business to implement a Workplace Surveillance Policy if the employer is looking to undertake surveillance or monitoring of an employee’s computer or internet use.
Large proprietary companies and all public companies are also obligated to have a Whistle-blower Policy in place. This policy is required to outline the protections employees and other people have who raise issues about corporate wrongdoing.
What should a policy include?
Workplace policies can often go over-complicated and important matters, so it is crucial that the business words the document in a way that the employees can easily understand. We recommend that policies and procedures are phrased with easy-to-understand language and that it is free from technical jargon where possible.
When drafting a policy, the business should ensure that the document:
- Provides a scope with what the policy will cover and outlines the aims of the policy
- Defines any key terms that will be mentioned within the document
- Goes over who the policy will apply to e.g. employees, managers, contractors.
- Sets out the expected standards of behaviour, conduct, or the processes that should be followed
- Include examples if applicable
- Mentions the consequences of not complying with the policy’s terms and if it is breached
Once a policy has been developed and implemented, the business will also be required to regularly review and update the document to ensure that it is in compliance with any changes. For example, there may be changes in the business’s own internal processes or legislative amendments. It is our recommendation that the policy also indicates when the business will next review the policy. A best practice approach is to review workplace policies on an annual basis, to ensure the procedures and contents are still relevant to the business’ goals and expectations. However, these should be reviewed more frequently in line with legislative amendments that may occur from time to time.
The difference between employment contracts and policies
Employment contracts are agreements between an employer and an employee and like any other contract can only be changed with the consent of both parties.
It is therefore very important that employers consider carefully whether something is more appropriately included in a contract or a policy. The advantage of a policy is that it can be changed or withdrawn at the employer’s discretion, whereas a contractual entitlement is “set in stone” unless an employee agrees otherwise.
We would recommend that employment contracts clearly state that workplace policies are not intended to form part of an employee’s contract and that workplace policies include a similar statement.
How to implement a policy in the workplace
After the business has developed the content of the policy; and is ready to implement this within the workplace, it is important that this is clearly communicated with the relevant stakeholders who will be expected to understand, follow and/or enforce the policy. We recommend the following three-step approach to assist in seamlessly introducing a new workplace policy into the business:
First, the business should consult staff about the proposed changes. Consultation is crucial to ensure that the policy or procedure is clearly communicated to the individuals who will be expected to adhere to the new guidelines. This can include management, contractors and employees.
A consultation allows the business to outline what the new expectations will be moving forward, why these are imperative to the business function, the impact this may have on the individual or the business processes, and also allows an opportunity for any feedback about the proposed changes. Seeking feedback from the staff; helps to ensure that the policy set out is achievable and realistic, but also can address any concerns that individuals may have with the document. The business can then adjust or amend the policy in consideration of any relevant feedback raised within the consultation process.
Consultation could be as simple as sending employees a draft of the policy and asking for comments, before implementing it.
After the business has consulted the impacted individuals regarding the proposed changes, the final version of the policy will need to be communicated to all relevant staff.
The business will need to consider who the policy applies to, and ensure these individuals are provided with an up-to-date version of the document. It is strongly recommended that a copy of the policy is kept in an easily accessible area for all relevant staff to have access to at any time, including adding this to the Staff Handbook or adding this to any online HRIS system the business may use. It is important that the business also informs employees where a copy of this document can be found.
The policy should also include a section for documenting the employee’s acknowledgment of the policy and indicates that the employee has read and understood the document and the expectations of them. It should also clearly highlight the date the policy comes into effect.
Once a policy has been proposed and communicated to the relevant staff, we recommend that businesses consider providing training about the new processes and expectations. Often, substantial time has passed since the staff were initially communicated the change in policy, and staff may not have thoroughly familiarized themselves with the contents of what was communicated. Providing training on the new process ensures that all staff are aware of the changes and become familiar with any new systems or processes that may be in place. This helps reduce any confusion and ensures a seamless transition from any previous procedures that may have been in place.
Specialized training should also be provided for any management staff that are expected to ensure compliance with the policy. Managers should be made aware of any legislative requirements in enacting the policy, and any risks that may arise. They should be trained on how to communicate, monitor and enforce the new policy amongst their staff, and any key features they need to be familiar with such as methods for storing employee information, escalation points for issues or relevant documentation they may need to reference.
Workplace Policy examples
What policies a business should have in place will vary depending on the industry, size, and needs of the business. However, common policies that many businesses will need to consider implementing include:
Code of Conduct
This contains general guidelines on expected behaviour in the workplace. A Code of Conduct can assist where the employer needs to take disciplinary action against an employee for acting inappropriately; and can reduce the risk of unfair dismissal claim.
Discipline & Termination Policy
This sets out the process the business may follow where an employee is being disciplined or dismissed. This policy will be of assistance in safeguarding the business against claims should an employee be terminated.
This policy outlines employees’ entitlements to take certain forms of leave. It also clarifies the procedural and evidential requirements for taking leave eg do they have to provide a medical certificate if taking sick leave, does the business implement an annual closedown over Christmas, etc.
Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) & Anti-Discrimination Policy
This outlines the company’s commitment to equal employment opportunity and a discrimination-free workplace. This helps protect the company from liability if, in breach of the policy, an employee commits an act of unlawful discrimination.
Grievance Handling Policy
This outlines the procedure employees have to follow where they have a complaint or grievance. It helps to ensure that issues in the workplace which could cause legal or reputational risks are appropriately investigated and dealt with.
Workplace Anti-Bullying & Anti-Harassment Policy
This policy provides clear prohibition on employees bullying or harassing others in the workplace. This helps protect the company from liability if, in breach of the policy, bullying or harassment occurs.
Workplace Health and Safety Policy
Employers have a duty to ensure employees work in a safe environment. A policy setting out health and safety obligations is an important step towards meeting these obligations.
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The information provided in these blog articles is general in nature and is not intended to substitute for professional advice. If you are unsure about how this information applies to your specific situation we recommend you contact HR Connect for advice.