When you run a workplace, it’s important to make sure all your workers understand their roles, responsibilities and obligations. A good way to do this is through implementing a Workplace Policy and a Staff Handbook.

These documents are important because they clearly lay out the policies and procedures which all employees are expected to follow; creating a safe, well-managed workplace where everyone’s on the same page.

Unlike employment contracts, which apply to individual employees, Staff Handbooks and Workplace Policies contain guidelines that apply to all employees. They’re essential for forming the basis of your workplace culture and ensuring it’s a great place to work.

So, what are these documents and what should they contain? Below, we outline the things you should include in a Workplace Policy and a Staff Handbook, as well as exploring the reasons you should have them in place.

What Is A Workplace Policy?

A Workplace Policy is a dynamic tool that articulates your organisation’s values, culture, systems and processes. It also sets out expectations around employee behaviour and responsibilities.

It is not an arcane document to be left to gather dust on company shelves! Instead, a Workplace Policy plays an important part in expressing an organisation’s values and fostering a positive, productive culture.

A well-written and clearly communicated Workplace Policy will set clear expectations around employee behaviour and performance, meaning everyone can get on with business. It will also outline the organisation’s practices and procedures, covering everything from day-to-day operational matters to compliance with employment legislation.

Why Should I Have A Workplace Policy?

A Workplace Policy is an important document because it serves as the backbone for your organisation’s cultural and procedural health.

Here are some reasons why you should have a properly documented Workplace Policy:

  • It provides employees with a clear understanding of what is expected of them
  • It ensures that a fair, predictable and consistent approach is taken when managing the workplace and addressing workplace issues, so you don’t just make things up as you go along
  • It saves time when inducting and training new employees, as all your policies and procedures are already set out in a centralised document
  • It serves as a reference point when managing workplace issues, such as employee misconduct or inappropriate behaviour

Additionally, a Workplace Policy can fulfil certain obligations and responsiblities you have under discrimination legislation. According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, employers may be vicariously liable for the discriminatory acts of their employees unless they can demonstrate that they took all reasonable steps to prevent discrimination, or took reasonable precautions and exercised due diligence.

As the onus is on you, the employer, to meet these requirements, having a properly documented Workplace Policy is a good way to prove you’ve taken proactive steps towards preventing discrimination.

What’s more, there may be additional rules regarding discrimination that apply to you depending on what state or territory you are in. In Victoria, for example, you have a ‘positive duty’ to eliminate or prevent discrimination in the workplace. A Workplace Policy can help fulfil this duty.

What Does A Workplace Policy Look Like?

A Workplace Policy can take many forms, and it may vary between industries. However, common things to include in a Workplace Policy are:

  • A code of conduct
  • Guidelines on internet, email, social media or mobile phone use
  • Rules surrounding drug and alcohol use, as well as smoking
  • Health and safety requirements
  • Grievance handling procedures, including whether an employee can bring a support person to a meeting
  • Any performance management, discipline and termination processes that employees may be subject to
  • Guidelines surrounding recruitment

You should also outline Workplace Harassment and Discrimination  expectations in your Workplace Policy. You should include an expanded list of the types of discrimination — clearly defining what constitutes workplace harassment and discrimination, and laying out the steps that will be taken by the organisation in dealing with victims or perpetrators of harassment or discrimination.

What Is A Staff Handbook?

A Staff Handbook brings together employment and job-related information which employees need to know – such as workplace policies – into a single document, file or book.

Although it’s not legally required in Australia, a Staff Handbook is a great way to induct new staff into your organisation and get them familiar with your workplace. It also gives existing staff a document they can refer to at any time to refresh their knowledge of workplace policies and procedures; helping them navigate any potential workplace issues or dilemmas.

What Should I Include In A Staff Handbook?

A Staff Handbook typically addresses three subject matters:

  1. Culture: this can include a welcome statement, the company’s mission, purpose, objectives, and company values
  2. General employee information such as holiday, sick and leave arrangements, company perks and benefits, policies not required by law, policy summaries, and more
  3. Company-specific information including company policies, rules, disciplinary and  grievance procedures, and other information modelled around employment legislation

A Staff Handbook can also prove useful in the event of an employee claim, such as an Unfair Dismissal Claim. Depending on the case, if you can prove that an employee knew the expectations and standards of their role, you may be able to increase your chances of successfully defending against such a claim.

Key Takeaway

Often, as an employer, writing and reviewing policies and procedures takes time away from the core business, so this task gets placed at the bottom of your to-do list. However, neglecting your policies and procedures can come at a considerable cost to your organisation.

Any organisation that employs staff can never be fully immune from the risk of a claim being made against them by a current or former employee. Even so, Workplace Policies aid employers in managing workplace issues and can be useful in defending against things like Unfair Dismissal Claims.

A strong workplace policy should be accompanied by a Staff Handbook, which provides clear advice to employees and helps form a culture where issues are dealt with fairly and consistently.

If you need help establishing or improving your business’ Workplace Policy or Staff handbook, contact us for a no-obligation chat on 1800 730 617 or at team@sprintlaw.com.au.

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