While an employment agreement, contract or the application of the relevant modern award are important as they set out the employer / employee relationship, they should be supported by policies and procedures that provide employees with an understanding of expected behavioural and performance standards while providing rules and guidelines for management and decision-making.

Risks of not having employment policies and procedures

It is worthwhile to understand the difference between a policy and a procedure:

  • A policy outlines boundaries, rules, obligations and entitlements
  • A policy explains how team members should perform their work, conduct themselves, maintain the safety of themselves and others, among other things, in order to be compliant with the companies policies and expectations of their role.

Developing policies and procedure for your business is not a simple as finding a template on the internet and adding it to your employment pack because a situation arisen and you need to be able to do something about it – we call this ‘policy on the fly’. And this can land you in hot water. Try to be proactive, not reactive. There are some great, reliable sources to help you understand what you need for your type of business which we will provide links for.

Once developed, you must conduct regular reviews of your policies to ensure that they are compliant with any legislative changes and also any changes in your businesses processes.

Any company policies and procedures need to be provided and explained to new and existing employees for them to be effective, enforceable and relied upon in the event of a non-compliance. It is best practice to have written confirmation from your team members that they have read and understood all of what has been provided to them.

Also, and just as importantly, ensure that there is consistency in how policies and procedures are applied and enforced to avoid any challenges relating to discrimination, equal opportunity, etc.

Ultimately, the real test of your policies and procedures is when you have to rely on them in the event of an employee issue – such as inappropriate behaviour, poor performance, or a team member questioning the legality of a policy or procedure.

There are many cases where Fairwork have decided in favour of an employee’s claim of unfair dismissal because the company’s policies and procedures were contrary to law, not properly communicated, not clear and concise, or even too specific. Take, for example, the case of the bus driver who was terminated following a passenger reporting to the company that the driver had the phone in his hand while driving a bus on a highway. The company’s policy referred to the ‘use of a mobile phone while driving to make a phone call’, however the employee was using it to play music at the time- the phone didn’t even have a sim card. Despite the use of a mobile phone for any reason while driving was against the law, the company policy did not state that contravention of this or any other road law may be grounds for termination. Fairwork directed that the company reinstate the employee.

What you should be doing

  • Research what policies and procedures your business needs to address
  • Ensure policies and procedures are clear, compliant, consistent
  • Make the documents accessible for all team members, and get sign off and acknowledgement
  • Make it clear what the aim of each policy and procedure is, and who it applies to
  • Check that they are compliant with employment and industry legislation, codes, and laws

What not to do

  • Set and forget – they must be regularly reviewed
  • Assume that your team understand the polies and procedures – get confirmation in writing
  • Write policy for policy’s sake – keep it relevant, practical and applicable
  • Be too vague, too specific or ambiguous