Business policies can be a cause of frustration and confusion for owners and managers. Typically viewed as ‘just something we have to have’, policies tend to be high worded and idealistic and often add very little to managements capability to manage workers. However, good policies that reflect actual business practices can be a powerful tool allowing the business to clearly communicate expectations, induct new staff into the culture and operations of the business and facilitate effective performance management. This weeks HR Highlight will explore why policy must match practice to deliver any benefit.

Bad Policy

Some business policies are bad. Bad in the sense that they: do not reflect the practices of the business; contain idealistic goals and/or motherhood statements; contain convoluted or unreasonable timelines and/or details and do not communicate expectations. These policies tend to sit on a shelf and collect dust. Which is a wasted opportunity, but on it’s own does not cause a problemuntil there is a problem.

When an incident occurs in the business, or the business would like to performance manage a worker, bad policies can cause problems, big problems.

Policies that contain goals and idealised statements such as ‘zero tolerance’ or call for specific people within the business to respond within specific timeframes can create a situation where the business, responding to an incident in good faith, can actually breach its employment obligations. For example, in a business with ‘bad’ policies, when a bullying incident occurs if there is a policy on the treatment of bullying that calls for ‘zero tolerance’ or for the ‘general manager’ to deal with the situationif that policy is not followed to the letter, because it is a spurious claim, or the General Manager is on leave, then the business has breached its implied contract with the workers, as the business policies form part of any employment relationship.

Good Policy

A good business policy, on the other hand, can be a tool for management and a clear part of the ongoing dialogue with workers. Good policies make it clear to all what the business expects and what will happen when the policy is activated or breached.

Good policies outline:

  • The importance of the policy area to the business
  • The expectations of the business in terms of behaviour (prohibited or encouraged as appropriate to the policy)
  • The responses of the business to any breach or activation of the policy

Good policies keep the details simple and honestly reflect the realities and practicalities of the business. If the business is one, like many in our industry, that is categorised as a ‘robust environment’ policies that express a ‘zero tolerance’ for swearing are not only inappropriate but, in the hands of a disgruntled worker, can be a noose around the businesses proverbial neck. Policies that reflect the reality of the business allow all parties to understand them, live up to them and count on them.

Consistency is Key

Consistent treatment of workers is a requirement under the law, the business must respond in a consistent and predictable manner in order to avoid causing adverse action to one worker over another. The policies must reflect this. A ‘zero tolerance’ policy that simply states “if you do this you will be fired” must be consistently applied. If there are conceivably mitigating circumstances, or if it was the ‘star performer’ who committed the breach the business would be compelled to respond by firing all workers who breached the policy or risk an adverse action claim from anyone they have ever fired under the policy.

Important, Will, May

Good policies outline clearly what is expected/prohibited behaviour. To make the policy valuable however, it is imperative that it takes the next step and follow the IMPORTANT, WILL ALWAYS, MAY RESULT IN structure.  In most cases the WILL ALWAYS is followed by be treated seriously and investigated, and the MAY RESULT IN is followed by a list of repercussions that are possible including retraining, performance management or dismissal.

In the case of genuine ‘zero tolerance’ policies, such as driving while under the influence this may be amended to WILL ALWAYS treat seriously and investigate and is LIKLEY TO RESULT IN/WILL RESULT IN dismissal.

For example: XYZ company has a policy against the wearing of purple shirts. This is considered a key critical business policy, as the wearing of purple shirts will result in the downfall of the business. Such a policy should clearly articulate this and then conclude with

“The conduct of all workers in this area is considered to be VITAL to the ongoing viability of the business. Breaches of this policy WILL ALWAYS be treated seriously and investigated and MAY RESULT IN retraining, performance management or dismissal based on the circumstances of the breach, with dismissal being the MOST LIKLEY”

I’ts Alive!!!!

In order to be valuable policies must be a part of the business operations to be real they must live! This means management must be aware of them and utilise them in situations regarding the behaviours they cover.  Workers must be appropriately trained in the policies. This means a discussion, tool box talk or formal training where the workers can explore the behaviours that will breach the policy and the actual repercussions.

This should not be a one off thing. Good policies are part of every day work life, and should be communicated when there are changes, as part of ongoing discussions (annually?) and after each incident to ensure that all workers understand the expectations and the business can foster a harmonious and productive working environment.

Here to Help

ACAPMA members are reminded that the ACAPMAlliance Workplace Relations Professionals are available to assist with all employment matters. For more information just call 1300 160 270.

HR Highlights are things to consider, implement and watch out for in your business. They are provided as general advice and you should seek further advice on your situation by calling 1300 160 270 and speaking to one of the ACAPMA Workplace Relations Professionals its free for members.

ACAPMA membership is affordable at only $770 per year for a single site and valuable with sites gaining HR advice support and representation as well as a raft of other benefits and discounts. Click here to apply for ACAPMA membership.