For many businesses, policies are a set of dusty pages on a shelf; some tick boxes on induction and that is if they are written down at all. There are, however, five policies that, when written well and then implemented in a business, not only ensure business compliance, but form the basis for performance management, discipline and termination. A set of operating principles giving the business a firm ground to take charge from. So it is time to investigate; who’s in charge of your business?

Recipe for an effective policy

Effective policies are more than just words on a page. They are the publication of a commitment to employees; one that explains the business’s expectations and then outlines what the business will do and what the business may do if those expectations are not met. Policies should be written in plain English (legal jargon only serves to confuse).

A good policy is one that:

  • is written to reflect the realities of the business, not the business’s aspirations or goals and not cloudy motherhood statements, but rather what this actual business would actually do if an employee fails to comply;
  • is communicated to all staff, clearly and regularly. On induction at least, with refreshers on a recurring basis, at toolbox talks or annual position reviews for example;
  • outlines expected behaviour and repercussions for failure to demonstrate expected behaviour. What the business will always do and may do if circumstances require it; and
  • is enforced in a fair, consistent and predictable manner.

Consistency is key

It is important when designing and applying policies that they are compatible with other policies and that they are enforced consistently.  This latter element is very important for all policy responses and particularly on-the-spot (summary) termination for misconduct.

The business must consistently utilise the policy so that if one employee displays the same behaviour they receive the same treatment as all others that have displayed that behaviour in the past. Ultimately, appropriately developed policies define that there can be consequences to one’s actions.

The big five

1. Misconduct

Clear communication of expectations allows businesses to address loose cannons and manage misconduct in a simple and compliant manner.

That’s inappropriate

Businesses that have clearly articulated Misconduct Policies are better situated to address and manage issues such as inappropriate behaviour in the workplace, misrepresentation or bringing the business into disrepute, or any other behaviour that the business has determined to be unacceptable.

You’re out

When an employee engages in unconscionable conduct or demonstrated behaviour that is unacceptable to the business a strong, considered and enforced policy allows that employee to be terminated on the spot, or immediately placed into a performance management program.

The Purple Shirt

What constitutes misconduct changes depending on the business. Based on the core product or business, behaviour that may be appropriate in one firm may be considered misconduct in another.  The business can set the bar for misconduct wherever it chooses, provided there is a business reason for the decision, all staff are made abundantly aware of the prohibitions and all breaches are handled consistently. Summarily dismissing an employee for “wearing a purple shirt”, becomes unreasonable when it is unknown to the employee that it is prohibited behaviour or the punishment is inconsistently applied.

2. Stock and Cash Control

All retail businesses need to institute strong Stock and Cash Control Policies to keep a rein on their profits and to address and manage issues such as: employee performance; compliance; theft; and fraud inside the business.

Stock

Stock in a petroleum and convenience business can be everything from lollies and petrol, to cleaning products and toilet paper. A business’s stock is its product and it is vital that it be handled, recorded and disposed of according to the business’s requirements. Cash in this instance includes credit too.  A good Stock and Cash Control Policy will address the business’s expectations for the extension of credit and the utilisation of failure to pay and other general ledger accounts.

Good Policy leads to Target Hardening

An additional benefit of a strong Stock and Cash Control Policy can also be a reduction in opportunistic fraud and theft. Tighter Cash Control Policies can send a clear message to potential criminals that the business is operating at best practice and theft will net them less, due to regular safe drops etc.

Managing employee theft

Instances of employee theft are a concern for all units of a fuel business, not just retail. However, businesses that performance manage, or terminate employees for “theft”, have found themselves in court many times.  Such as the cases where: the theft was not reported to the police; the police case was dismissed; and when the police failed to prosecute due to a lack of evidence. In these cases unfair dismissals were sought and reinstatement or penalties were awarded against the employer as “theft” was the reason given for dismissal. Theft is a crime, one that the police and the courts are responsible for deciding on. Businesses cannot decide when a “theft” has occurred.  A business can, however, clearly identify when an employee has departed from established stock or cash handling instructions. Similarly, alleged fraud should be handled in the same way because it is regarded as a form of theft.

3. Bullying

Many forms of bullying are a crime and would fall into a sensible person’s definition of misconduct.  However, it is important for businesses to have a separate Bullying Policy to highlight the business’s commitment to a safe environment and to highlight the importance of the issue to management and staff.

If it feels like bullying it is

In the workplace the first thing employers need to understand is that bullying is a subjective claim.  That is to say that if an employee feels they have been bullied, then they have at least for the purposes of the business’s response.

One response

An effective Bullying Policy needs to identify the business’s commitment to safety, and the steps it will take when accusations or instances of bullying are raised or observed.

4. Social Media

From Twitter to Facebook, social media pervades the operations of business and the lives and interactions of staff. Businesses need to have clearly defined rules of engagement when it comes to social media. This allows the business to respond to bullying, defamation and challenges to the business brand appropriately and confidently.

More than words

In addition to articulating how and when the staff can speak about, or for, the business on the internet, a Social Media Policy should outline what images are not allowed to be communicated in relation to the business. There is more to it than just stating not to upload photos of the night manager planking on the stock shelves, there is a genuine security concern that back-of-house features and processes can be publicly communicated making the business a target for robbery or violence.

5. Anti-Discrimination and EEO

Much like bullying, discrimination is a crime and would fall into a sensible person’s definition of misconduct. However, it is important for businesses to have a separate Anti-Discrimination and Equal Employment Opportunity Policy to highlight the business’s commitment to an “equality” environment and to highlight the importance of the issue to management and staff.

Other Policies?

Any articulated and consistent response to situations is a business policy, so some businesses may require formalising more than just the ‘big five’. However, without these five policies in place, businesses are surrendering the power to manage their staff and businesses with confidence.

ACAPMAlliance Workplace Relations Professionals are here to help members take back control by providing advice, support and representation, just call 1300 160 270 email assist@acapma.com.au

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