8 questions to check how robust your employment policies are

Maintaining usability, coherence and comprehensiveness of an organisation’s employment and HR policies and procedures should be an ongoing job for all employers. In our experience however, too often these policies are not sufficiently comprehensive – and once they are completed, they are forgotten or poorly implemented. Neglecting your policies poses a significant risk for your business.

The real test of an employment policy is when you rely on them as part of an investigation into inappropriate behaviour at work, or in response to a query from a staff member who is challenging the boundaries of the policy application.

In order to ensure your policies are robust in the face of this kind of scrutiny, it is well worth undertaking a proactive review of your relevant policies and procedures to assess whether they will stand up in practice. It is also important to review and refine your policies following an investigation or challenge.

The following questions will help you conduct a health check of your employment and HR policies.

Give the policies life!

1. Are your policies are visible in your organisation?

Walk around, where are they visible? Are they on tea room poster boards or buried in the online folders. Are they part of your induction and regular staff training programs? If staff are on maternity leave, casual, or on secondment, how are they kept up to date? If they are invisible or unlived, the policies are not effective.

2. Do they reflect your company values & expectations?

To be effective, your employment and HR policies must reflect your organisation’s values and expectations for behaviour and performance. This means that everyone, from the top down should operate to those standards.

As noted by Lieutenant General David Morrison in 2013, “The standard you walk past, is the standard you accept”. If you or management walk past behaviour that does not match the policy standards it will undermine and weaken the policies.

3. Is policy ownership clear?

Clearly identify who has ownership of policy drafting and past and future amendments. Ensure staff know about that role and how they can be involved. Ensure there is a clear process for making policy queries, and staff with responsibility for responding to questions about policies.

Make them plain as day!

4. Are policy aims and definitions clear?

The aim of policies is to reinforce and set standards for acceptable behaviour in the workplace and to set consequences for failure to comply. Explicitly state that aim and set out clearly what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour e.g. in an email policy, explain clearly what will be “offensive” or “inappropriate” in an email and a breach of the policy.

5. Is it clear who the policy applies to, and what their responsibilities are?

Set out clearly the rights and responsibilities of staff and be clear about who the policy applies to e.g. does it apply only to employers or contractors as well?

6. Are the required procedures documented well?

Ensure all the steps for each procedure are adequately documented – but be careful to ensure the steps are not too prescriptive – which can means the organisation will only rarely follow with them. An effective policy may allow discretion in its implementation e.g. the decision to investigate misconduct or deal with it another way should be discretionary. Set out clear outcomes for non-compliance with the policy, if any.

7. Are your policies sufficiently comprehensive?

Cover off all key policy areas including a code of conduct, recruitment, internet and email usage, mobile phone policy, smoking, drug and alcohol policy, dress standard, OHS, leave entitlements, social media usage, misconduct such as bullying, harassment and discrimination, fraud, conflict of interest, grievance handling, discipline and termination of employment.

Avoid multiple policies that address the same issue, creating confusion about what policy applies.

8. Are they legally compliant?

Stay abreast of changes to the law and update policies if definitions change, e.g. the protected attributes for discrimination. Ensure the definitions (e.g. bullying, conflict of interest) are explicit, clear and able to be applied with ease. Include non-exhaustive examples in your policies so staff are clear about the standard of behaviour required. Whenever it becomes apparent that policies are unclear, open to manipulation or misunderstanding, take the opportunity to amend them.

Keep them fresh and relevant!

Finally, remember that effective policies and procedures help staff understand how their workplace operates and importantly, they also minimise the legal and business risks associated with ‘people risk’.

Make sure yours are healthy and working well to manage that risk!