NSW Industrial Relations runs interactive workshops that provide employers/managers with the practical knowledge and skills to more confidently manage their employees.
Well-written workplace policies:
It is crucial to have senior management support for the implementation or modification of a policy, especially where policies relate to employee behaviour. The endorsement and modelling of the behaviour by senior managers and supervisors will encourage staff to take the policies seriously. While management support for a policy is an important first step before actively seeking employee feedback on a proposed policy, the idea for the policy and some of its details may in fact come from staff.
Involve staff in developing and implementing workplace policies to promote stronger awareness, understanding and ownership of the outcome. Staff involvement also helps to determine how and when the policies might apply, and can assist in identifying possible unintentional outcomes of the policy.
Be explicit. Define key terms used in the policy at the beginning so that employees understand what is meant. The policy should explain what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour in the workplace. You may wish to include specific examples to illustrate problem areas or unacceptable types of behaviours. For example:
An individual shall be deemed to be under the influence of alcohol if he/she exceeds a blood alcohol level of 0.05% (0.02% for heavy vehicle drivers).
Be clear about who the policy applies to. For example, does it only apply to employees of the company or to contractors and sub-contractors engaged to perform work on business premises? This is particularly important, for example, with occupational health and safety which covers everyone in the workplace.
The policy may also need to contain information about what to do if it is not possible to follow the policy. For example, if you have a policy relating to punctuality, you may need to include a procedure outlining what to do if the employee is going to be late.
The policy should also contain procedures to support the policy in its operation, such as the implications for not complying with the policy.
Example 1: Occupational health and safety
No employee is to commence work, or return to work while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. A breach of this policy is grounds for disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment.
Example 2: Email policy
Using the organisation's computer resources to seek out, access or send any material of an offensive, obscene or defamatory nature is prohibited and may result in disciplinary action.
To be effective, policies need to be publicised and provided to all existing and new employees. This includes casual, part-time and full-time employees and those on maternity leave or career breaks.
Policies should be written in plain English and easily understood by all employees. Consider translating the policies into the appropriate languages for employees whose first language is not English.
Ensure all staff understand what the policies mean. Explain how to comply with the policies and the implications of not complying.
The policies may be explained to staff through information and/or training sessions, at staff meetings and during induction sessions for new staff. They should also be reiterated and discussed with staff regularly at staff meetings to ensure they remain relevant.
Copies of policies should be easily accessible. Copies may be kept in folders in a central location or staff areas, in staff manuals and available on the organisation's intranet system.
It is important that policies are applied consistently throughout the organisation. A breach of a policy should be dealt with promptly and according to the procedures set out in the policy. The consequence of the breach should also suit the severity of the breach – whether it be a warning, disciplinary action or dismissal.
An organisation which dismissed an employee for sexual harassment was subsequently ordered to re-employ the sacked staff member as they had failed to follow their own policy. The company had a policy of zero tolerance to sexual harassment but failed to exercise the provision when the policy was breached. The Commission hearing revealed that the company had breached its own policy when it issued the employee numerous unofficial warnings instead.
Review policies regularly to ensure they are current and in line with any changes within the organisation. Where policies are significantly changed they should be re-issued to all staff and the changes explained to them to ensure they understand the organisation's new directions. These changes should also be widely publicised.
A workplace policy should:
Policies also need to be reviewed on a regular basis and updated where necessary. For example, if there is a change in equipment or workplace procedures you may need to amend your current policy or develop a new one.
Employment law changes, changes to your award or agreement may also require a review of your policies and procedures. Stay up to date with relevant changes by regularly checking Fair Work Online [Fair Work Ombudsman]
Here are some examples of common workplace policies that could assist your workplace:
While legislation and awards and agreements cover employee entitlements to various types of leave, it is helpful to have a policy that sets out how leave is managed in the workplace. For example, a policy on annual close downs will ensure staff understand what happens during this period.
Sample policy – annual close down
The company closes for two weeks over the Christmas period each year. All staff will be given at least four weeks notice of specific dates of the close down. Any leave due at the time must be taken. If an employee's entitlement does not cover the period required, the remainder must be taken as leave without pay.
All employees will receive paid leave for gazetted public holidays during the period.
An employer may wish to develop a policy for taking other forms of leave. Such a policy would need to identify:
A code of conduct sets standards of behaviour or appearance in the workplace. These standards will vary depending on the industry, the role of the employee and work undertaken by staff. A code of conduct may include dress standards at work or email and internet use.
A policy on dress standard will depend on a number of issues, including:
'Business dress' or 'smart casual' are terms that are often used in workplaces. However, the employer should specify what these terms mean. For example, the business may wish to exclude particular items of clothing such as midriff tops, hipster pants, singlets, short and open shoes if safety is an issue.
Remember, the policy cannot discriminate between men and women. If men are not allowed to wear jeans or earrings, neither can women.
If introducing a uniform or dress standard in the workplace, it is important to include employees in the decision making. Some employees have very strong views about being asked to wear a uniform and these need to be considered before taking any action.
Job applicants may dress more formally to an interview than they will on a day-to-day basis and may not be aware of the business's dress standards. Ensure the business's dress requirements are outlined to every new employees before they start. This information should also be included in their appointment letter.
Determining what is or is not acceptable usage of the internet during working hours is of concern to many employers. Companies have valid reasons for wanting to manage the use of personal email, internative gaming and social media sites.
In developing a policy on the use of the internet and email at work it is important to ensure that all terms such as 'offensive' and 'inappropriate' are clearly explained and understood by all staff. The policy should outline that the company will not tolerate any form of offensive or inappropriate material being accessed, transmitted or stored on the business system. Ideally the policy should meet the needs of the business as well as complying with any legal requirements.
Unlike personal property kept in a desk drawer or locker, electronic messages sent or received at work are not legally considered to be personal property. As the owner of the server or personal computer on which staff email is stored, many employers reserve the right the check emails as a precaution against fraud, workplace harassment or breaches of confidence by employees.
However, employees also have legitimate expectations of privacy in relation to their email communications. A failure to acknowledge these expectations can affect the usefulness of providing email facilities. Try and balance staff privacy with the legitimate interests of the business. Restrictive or intrusive policies or practice could have a negative impact on morale and productivity.
Any email and Internet policy should cover:
The policy should also define what the business considers is acceptable and unacceptable use.
For example, employees may use the Internet access provided by the company for:
Employees may not use the Internet access provided by the company to:
This email (and any file transmitted with it) is intended for the addressee only and may contain confidential information. If you have received this email in error, please delete it and notify the originator of the message. Any views expressed in this message are those of the individual sender except where the sender (with authority) states them to be the views of the company.
As an employer, there are legislative requirements for the employer to provide a healthy and safe workplace for employees. The employer has the right to designate the workplace as smoke free and can indicate that in job advertisements.
There is no legal requirement for an employer to provide smoke breaks. While an employer may be prepared to recognise the needs of a smoker, they also need to avoid the problem caused by an employee disappearing on a regular basis for a 'smoke break'.
Setting guidelines (morning, afternoon tea and lunch breaks) makes it clear to staff about what is acceptable and also overcomes the antagonism that may come from non-smoking employees when a smoker takes excessive breaks.
The following information will assist when introducing a smoking policy in the workplace:
Drug and alcohol use in the workplace is covered by the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2000 which requires that employers:
Drug and alcohol use in the workplace creates a range of problems. Employees with drug and alcohol problems can cause injury to themselves and others and damage their physical and mental health.
Workmates of a drug or alcohol user are faced with a risk of accidents, covering poor work performance, disputes and the need to 'dob in a mate' for their own good. Other problems include lateness and absenteeism, lost time and production from accidents and inefficiency and damage to plant, equipment and other property.
A policy to manage alcohol and drugs in the workplace should include information and procedures on:
The use of social media has increased dramatically over the last few years and it is essential that employers introduce appropriate policy to deal with the use of social media. Many organisations use social media to enhance and promote their business while employers must also ensure that employees who use social media outside of the workplace do not post damaging or inappropriate comments or photos on social media sites.
It is a must that employers attempt to proactively manage social media risks. To manage these risks employers must provide employees with a policy on the use of social media. Advising employees that they are not:
Employees must be made aware of this policy and its practical implications. The policy itself or subsequent training should provide clarification on what is considered acceptable and unacceptable use of social media eg. what may be considered ‘defamation’ and ‘confidential information’