Workplace Policies

A good set of workplace policies and procedures are important to provide the framework for how a particular workplace will operate in practice.  Workplace policies can include the usual procedures which apply in a workplace, such as the process for taking leave or even how to answer the phone.  Employers may be required by legislation to have certain policies in place and workplace policies can also set out conduct expectations for employees and the workplace values of the business.

What is a workplace policy?

A workplace policy is a statement which outlines how issues will be dealt with in a particular workplace.  There are generally three types of workplace policies:

  • Workplace policies required by law, for example, work health and safety, workplace bullying, discrimination, workplace surveillance, whistleblower and sexual harassment policies.
  • Policies to protect the business such as a code of conduct, drug and alcohol, social media or use of resources policies, such as ICT or company vehicles.
  • Procedural policies including leave policies, dress codes, performance and conduct management, grievance policies and any other procedures which would be helpful to employees to undertake their work efficiently and effectively.

Workplace policies can provide more detail around the obligations set out in employment agreements and deal with the day-to-day things which are not really contractual matters.  While compliance with workplace policies can be required by a contract, the policies themselves are not contractual in nature.  This means workplace policies can be easily varied as businesses grow and change over time, without the need for individual employee consent.  Ideally, employees should be consulted about workplace policies and any changes – after all, they are working in the business and may have valuable insights and practical suggestions about effective workplace policies and procedures.

Workplace policies reinforce and clarify standard operating procedures in a workplace. The implications of non-compliance with policies should also be clearly spelled out, including disciplinary action and, for serious non-compliance, termination of employment.

Policies need to be reasonable, and employers should ensure that employees are aware of how the policies affect them, their colleagues and the employer and what their obligations are under the policy.

Why is it a good idea to have workplace policies?

Clearly written workplace policies help employers manage staff more effectively by setting out appropriate procedures and what is considered acceptable behaviour in the workplace. They also protect the business and, for policies required by law, may reduce legal liability in some circumstances.  For example, the existence of a WHS or sexual harassment policy may reduce the risk of an employer being vicariously liable if an employee acts in breach of the policy.

Workplace policies can also be used in certain circumstances to ensure employees after hours or private conduct does not damage the business, for example, social media and ICT policies, provided there is a sufficient connection to the employment.

Social media use can be a controversial issue in the workplace and employees need to be clear about what they are able to post on social media, including their own personal social media profiles, to reduce the risk of any potential damage to an employer’s reputation.

We strongly recommend employers obtain legal advice if they are seeking to impose limitations on an employee’s after hours conduct.

What type of things should be included in workplace policies?

Generally, a policy will start with a short statement about the aim or purpose of the policy and who it applies to. Some policies will set out the responsibilities of management and employees under the policy. The policy subject matter will then be dealt with including clarifying any relevant definitions.

If applicable, consequences of non-compliance should be clearly outlined, and it is a good idea to include some form of employee acknowledgment that they have read and understood the policy.

A good employee induction process should go through the workplace policies and procedures with new starters.  For this reason, workplace policies often form the first impressions of a business for a new employee so a set of workplace policies which reflect the character of the business can be a useful form of internal marketing. It is also a good idea for policies not to be too prescriptive so employers can retain the flexibility to deal with workplace issues in the most appropriate way.

Developing good workplace policies that are supported by fair processes is essential for fostering sound workplace practices. Regular review of your policies should ensure that they are up to date and address the evolving nature of the workplace. Working with an employment lawyer can assist employers to develop policies in line with emerging issues and changing laws and to tailor policies to your particular workplace.

If you are an employer needing assistance or advice about your workplace policies, contact us at [email protected] or call (02) 5127 5261 for expert legal advice.