Why workplace policies

In essence, workplace policies are necessary because we employ people.

Organisations are made up of people who bring their own value systems into the work environment.  If the organisational values are not clearly defined people make up their own rules based on their own values.  Very soon those rules become the norm and, if workplace policies are not clearly defined, may create exposure to litigation and claims for compensation.

Workplace policies clearly communicate legislative meaning, and provide managers and employees with a clear understanding of what is and what is not acceptable in the organisation.

In today’s workplace an employer can be held liable for the bad behaviour of an employee, especially when that bad behaviour affects other employees, or other people.  For this reason the most critical workplace policies required by employers are those linked to the health and wellbeing of the individual and predominantly focus on safety, discrimination, harassment and bullying.

Despite wide-ranging communication, education, and consultation focussed on these critical areas, statistics tell us that such behaviour is escalating in the workplace.  The Australian Human Rights Commission estimates that workplace bullying costs Australian employers between $6 – $36 billion dollars every year, including hidden and lost opportunity costs.

Financial compensation received by complainants in cases resolved at the Human Rights & Equal Opportunities Commission (HREOC) varied widely, from a minimum of $500 to a maximum of $200,000.  In almost all cases resolved at HREOC the employer agreed to compensate the complainant either as well as or instead of the alleged harasser.  This is a further price paid by employers who had failed to prevent or satisfactorily resolve the complaints themselves.  The majority of complaints came from employers who had not implemented policies fully or at all.

The sackings for both the David Jones CEO for inappropriate behaviour toward a female employee, and Andrew Johns as an NRL coach for racial comments demonstrate that no industry is immune from bad behaviour.  The behaviour is systemic, which means it is across all levels of the organisation, and employees at any level are accountable for bad behaviour.

It is critical to devote the time to develop workplace policies for your business before the need arises.  It’s an investment that can pay large dividends in increased productivity and minimised litigation.  It’s also an essential component of your comprehensive people strategy.