Policy documents form an important part of the terms and conditions of employment and the operational obligations, powers and restrictions within an organisation. Employers should ensure they have policies and procedures in place to comply with their employment, and health and safety obligations, and to deal with common employee issues that arise.

Below is a summary of policy documents that should exist in most workplaces:

Employers should be prepared with a policy dealing with what will happen when serious concerns about an employee’s conduct arise. The policy would usually include the process you will follow in investigating disciplinary concerns, the ability to suspend an employee pending a disciplinary investigation (either on full pay or without pay), and what will happen if the investigation is unduly delayed. For example where an employee is unable to attend a disciplinary meeting due to stress arising from the investigation, the policy may require them to use their sick leave rather than receiving full pay. Likewise, where a police investigation prevents your employment investigation proceeding, you may include a provision directing the employee is suspended without pay. 

Drugs and Alcohol
The use of drugs and alcohol by workers (both within and outside of work time) carries a risk of impaired performance and can have serious health and safety implications for your business. If you want to test employees it is vital that you have a policy outlining when and how this is to occur. The relevant provisions will depend on the nature of your business and the work undertaken within it. The policy can include pre-employment testing, random testing (in safety sensitive areas or positions), post-accident (or near miss) testing and testing for reasonable cause.

Fatigue Management
Fatigue is a major risk to employee health and safety, particularly for those working long hours, night shifts and in adverse conditions such as exposure to light, noise, or extreme temperatures. Fatigue management will include managing your workers’ hours to provide appropriate opportunity for rest and recovery. Some industries are already subject to standards imposing maximum hours for any shift or roster. Consideration by an employer as to the effects and management of worker fatigue are likely to be factors investigated by WorkSafe in the event of any accident, and an employer may risk liability if they have not identified fatigue as a risk to worker’s safety and taken steps to eliminate that risk.

WorkSafe issued workplace bullying guidelines earlier this year; they detailed the importance of management establishing a culture for reporting and deterrence of workplace bullying. Personal grievance claims are increasingly containing allegations of bullying, with workers seeking compensation for the distress, hurt and humiliation caused as a result of bullying in the workplace. A workplace policy establishing a process for dealing with bullying complaints is an essential first step for businesses wishing to avoid the risk of liability.

Company Vehicle
Where employees are issued with a work vehicle or access to a vehicle pool, a business should have an appropriate vehicle policy setting out the minimum standards of driving behaviour (particularly where your vehicle is sign-written with your company’s name or logo), insurance obligations, liabilities for negligence, implications on employment for driving under the influence, fines or infringement notices, and a procedure for the reporting of accidents.

Risk and Hazard Identification/Management
Educating your workers as to their individual duties of identification and elimination of risks to health and safety (including reporting requirements) assists in maintaining a safe and healthy workplace; it is an important aspect of the Health and Safety Reform Bill (see our commentary earlier in this Bulletin). The policy should deal with appropriate employee responses and conduct in relation to media enquiries in the face of a major accident (and ensuring confidentiality of the workplace practices), and with preventing accidents or injuries and responding to near misses with input from your employees. Training and support should be made available for employees.

Social Media and Internet Use
Given the increasing use of social media, internet and email by all workers, it is important to set clear policies for use by your employees. The provisions will depend on the nature of your business and employees’ requirements for internet access. A policy might include limiting personal use of internet and email while at work, banning inappropriate use of social media by employees at any time, and setting out employee responsibilities in relation to internet, email and social media use.

General Code of Conduct
Many workplaces will also have a ‘handbook’, ‘code of conduct’ or ‘office manual’ providing the employer’s expectations for proper performance of duties by employees.

This suite of policies can be amended as and when required by the employer, and should be reviewed regularly, particularly when there is any change in workplace operating systems. Employment agreements should have provision to enable the introduction of new policies during employment, provided the employee is notified and provided an opportunity to familiarise themselves with such policies.

Each workplace is unique and will require its own tailored policies and procedures to ensure it is prepared for any employment and health and safety issues that arise. Our employment team has broad experience in drafting policy documentation for a wide range of businesses to ensure that policies are appropriate to your business.

Disclaimer: All the information published in the Employment Bulletin is true and accurate to the best of the author’s knowledge. It should not be a substitute for legal advice. No liability is assumed by the authors or Simpson Western for losses suffered by any person or organisation relying directly or indirectly on this newsletter. Views expressed are those of the individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the view of this firm. Articles in the Employment Bulletin may be reproduced with prior approval from the editor and credit given to the source.