Some things just work better in pairs. Like hot chocolate and marshmallows. Movies and popcorn. Sundays and sleep-ins. And of course, businesses and solid workplace policies.
A carefully crafted workplace policy sets expectations around staff behaviour, while ensuring that employers comply with their legal obligations, too.
Workplace policies aren’t just important. They’re crucial to creating a successful and thriving business. But done wrong, workplace policies are quite the opposite of a Sunday morning sleep-in – an employer’s worst nightmare, in fact.
Thankfully, we’re about to define workplace policies, why you need them and how to craft them so that they work seamlessly.
What is a workplace policy?
Policy and procedures manual… code of conduct.. staff handbook… There are endless names for workplace policies.
But despite what you call yours, all workplace policies serve a similar purpose. It’s a written document from an employer that sets out processes, procedures and requirements relating to the management or organisation of the workplace.
Why do you need workplace policies?
There are several reasons why an employer needs workplace policies. In a nutshell, they can outline:
- Conditions of employment, entitlements and benefits
- Clear expectations for both employers and staff
- The consequences of breaching these expectations
- The responsibilities of staff when they deal with others
- The processes for handling disputes when they arise
- Responses to new laws (ahem, remember social distancing?)
Not only that, workplace policies also assist you, the employer, in meeting your obligations. This could be anything from how you deal with personal information to how you manage your staff.
If a workplace policy is expressly incorporated included into your employment contracts or implied, then this means that:
- A breach of the policy by the employee can be met with misconduct justifying dismissal, and – in some cases - summary dismissal.
- As the employer, you’re not invincible either. You’re also bound to comply with the policy (or this can also lead to a breach of contract).
Even if a workplace policy is not expressly included or implied as a term of the employment contract, there is an implied duty that employees will follow the lawful and reasonable directions of the employer. Therefore, staff generally are required to comply with workplace policies.
Now, a quick word of warning
Just because you have workplace policies in place doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods.
Employers whose actions are inconsistent with their own policies may be prevented from taking action against an employee if the employee doesn’t comply with the policy. In other words, it’s not a one-way street. On top of this, if you dismiss an employee pursuant to a poorly drafted policy, it may leave you on the wrong end of an unfair dismissal case.
But it’s not all bad news, workplace policy nightmares can be avoided (phew).
How to write workplace policies so they work for you
Every business is unique, and their workplace policies should be, too. As a general rule of thumb, a workplace policy should include:
A scope, explaining when and what the policy applies to
The process or procedure for how something needs to be done
The consequences of a breach of the policy
So without further ado, here are our top tips for crafting your workplace policies.
Emphasise the need for compliance
If you want staff to comply with certain conduct, this should be made clear in the policy – it should not be expressed as aspirational. You can do this by using language such as “will”, “must” or “is required to”. Avoid, for example, “depending on the circumstances” – as this is a recipe for confusion, and the policies may be deemed informative rather than binding.
Be clear and specific
Especially about how you will enforce your policy. For example, if you want to ensure you can terminate the employee for breach a drug and alcohol policy, the policy must state a “zero tolerance” approach to breaches. You must also ensure that you are clear on the methods that will be used for testing for drug and alcohol (and that the testing methods are actually accurate).
Provide proof of communication
You must be able to prove that you have communicated a workplace policy to your staff. The best way to do this is to get staff to acknowledge and sign the policy when they receive their letter of offer.
Being approachable and open to feedback is key to a successful workplace policy. Have a staff meeting and allow your team to ask questions, give comments or provide feedback.
To wrap it up
Think of solid workplace policies as your trusty business side-kick. Just like cheese to macaroni, you shouldn’t have one without the other. Though workplace policies may not be as deliciously cheesy - they do encourage consistency, respect and accountability. You know, all the things that a successful business is built upon.