As an employer, it is important to have workplace policies and procedures in place that cover a range of operational and behavioural aspects of the organisation. This provides clarity and consistency across procedures, expectations and standards that benefits both employees and the organisation as a whole.
Managing people takes time, energy and expertise, but by putting in place clear guidance on what you expect of your employees and what they can expect from you in return, this can help you to concentrate your resources on running your business.
In this article we examine why workplace policies are important to any reputable organisation, regardless of size, and how employers can build and maintain a legally compliant HR infrastructure through clearly written and well-communicated workplace policies.
The role of workplace policies
Workplace policies can be an essential component of a well-managed workforce, providing written guidance on everyday employment issues in an easily accessible format.
These will incorporate the key principles and values of your company or organisation on a particular workplace issue, together with the individual and organisational rights and responsibilities within that context.
Your HR policies should play an important role in practically and effectively implementing your HR strategies, providing both managers and staff with clarity as to what to do or what will happen when certain workplace issues arise. These policies will demonstrate a commitment to your staff that they will be treated fairly and in accordance with the law. They will also help to ensure your staff are treated consistently, thereby creating a positive organisational culture.
Workplace policies not only play a significant role in managing your workforce, but also in the management of any legal risks as an employer. This is because by setting out the steps to be taken by management that accurately reflects the prevailing legislation and caselaw, this will help to ensure that workplace issues are handled in a lawful manner at all times.
By being clear on your stance on issues such as harassment and discrimination, or disciplinary and dismissal, and how any potential issues will be handled, this will also help you to defend any challenge made to your decision-making should you find yourself facing a tribunal claim. Even a basic written policy can go some way toward helping you defend a claim from, for example, unlawful discrimination or unfair dismissal, as long as those policies are properly implemented, followed and fully up-to-date with the law.
Which workplace policies are mandatory?
To comply with your statutory duties relating to health and safety in the workplace, any company or organisation with five or more employees must have in place a written health and safety policy. There are also important legislative provisions relating to formal workplace disciplinary and grievance procedures, where any such procedure is required to meet the minimum statutory requirements as prescribed by the ACAS Code of Practice.
Beyond this, there is no strict legal requirement to provide your staff with written workplace policies or procedures. This means that there is no direct penalty for not having, for example, a policy on equality and diversity. That said, even where a workplace policy is not required by law, it is generally regarded as best practice for employers to have such policies in place to provide clear guidance on handling the issue in question consistently and in a way that reduces legal risk.
The absence of a written policy on key workplace issues is also likely to reflect poorly on your practices as an employer in the event of a tribunal claim against you.
Which workplace policies are recommended?
Workplace policies can vary widely between employers where there is no one-size-fits-all approach. The nature and extent of your policies and procedures should be tailored to reflect the size and unique culture and business needs of your company or organisation.
As a small business, you are only likely to need a limited number of key policies and procedures. As your organisation grows, however, or the environment in which it operates alters, your requirement for workplace policies may change, in line with your risk profile. In some cases, multiple detailed policies may work best, whilst for others fewer more principled-based policies may be more appropriate.
Below we look at some of the key workplace policies, although note that this list is not exhaustive. Employers are advised to take guidance on the specific requirements of their organisation to support consistent, effective and legally compliant workforce management.
Conduct at work policy
It is important to ensure all new-starters are fully aware of the standards expected of them, a conduct at work policy should include all necessary information pertaining to the practicalities of starting work with your company or organisation.
This could include your rules and procedures relating to some or all of the following issues:
- Attendance at work and notifications of absences
- Dress code or appearance at work
- Standards of performance at work
- Performance and appraisal procedures
- Smoking or vaping on work premises
- Consumption of alcohol and substance misuse
- Use of company premises and company property
- Computer, email and internet use
- Use of mobile phones in the workplace
- Use of social media during and outside working hours
- Confidentiality and data protection
- Any conflicts of interest
- Receipt of gifts, bribery or other corrupt behaviour
- Probationary periods and criminal record checks
- Training and development
Health and safety at work policy
The law provides that every business must have a policy for managing health and safety in the workplace. If you have five or more employees, you must have a written policy. If you have fewer than five employees you do not have to write anything down, but it is useful to do so. You must also share the policy, and any changes to it, with your staff.
A health and safety policy should set out your general approach to health and safety in the workplace, explaining how you, as an employer, will manage the health and safety of your staff and those visiting your premises. This should also include who will do what, when and how.
As such, any health and safety policy should include the following:
- Statement of intent: state your general policy on health and safety at work, including your aims and commitment to managing health and safety
- Responsibilities for health and safety: list the names, positions and roles of the people in your business who have specific responsibility for health and safety
- Arrangements for health and safety: give details of the practical arrangements you have in place, showing how you will achieve your health and safety policy aims, for example, doing a risk assessment, training employees and using safety signs or equipment.
Diversity and dignity at work policy
It is good practice for all employers to incorporate workplace policies that specifically relate to the welfare of their employees. This can cover a wide range of workplace issues but, in particular, diversity and dignity at work can include any or all of the following:
- Equality and equal opportunities
- Disability and other forms of discrimination
- Bullying and harassment
- Victimisation in the workplace
- Stress at work
- Whistleblowing and protected disclosures
Each of these topics involve complex areas of employment law, for example, the duty not to discriminate against your staff, or to allow harassment or bullying to take place in the workplace, or the duty to make reasonable adjustments for employees with disabilities.
As such, these topics may each require a separate and detailed policy. In respect of each, however, you should always first set out your commitment, for example, to inclusion, diversity and equality in the workplace, or to prevent harassment and bullying, followed by the detailed steps that will be taken to handle any workplace issues that arise in these respects.
Disciplinary, dismissal and grievance policies
Within any contract of employment or written statement of particulars you must set out or signpost an individual to your written disciplinary and grievance procedures.
Your disciplinary policy should set out in detail the standards of conduct expected of your workforce and the procedures to be followed by the organisation when dealing with issues such as misconduct or poor performance. It should also make reference to the sanctions available in the event of disciplinary action, such as the use of warnings and summary dismissal.
You must also have in place a written grievance procedure, explaining how staff can raise a formal complaint, the steps to be taken to investigate the complaint, and what an employee can do if they consider the matter has not been satisfactorily resolved.
In respect of both disciplinary and grievance procedures, these must meet the minimum requirements prescribed by the ACAS Code of Practice. This provides basic practical guidance to employers and employees, and sets out principles for handling disciplinary and grievance situations at work.
Although it is not a mandatory requirement to follow this Code, an employment tribunal would usually take into account whether the guidance has been adhered to should an employee bring a claim against you. Further, the tribunal has powers to adjust any award by up to 25% for unreasonable failure to comply with provisions of the ACAS Code.
What should an effective workplace policy include?
The key to effective workplace policies, no matter what topic you are dealing with, is ensuring that these are both clearly drafted and communicated.
All workplace policies should be written in plain English and avoid jargon so that they are user-friendly and easily understood by all members of staff. Where technical terms are necessary, you may want to include a glossary explaining these terms.
Your policies and procedures should be realistic and meaningful, providing rules and procedures that you and your management team are prepared to enforce. It is also important to avoid imposing rules or procedures that are too onerous, restrictive or complicated, as this may limit the way in which you or your management are able to run your daily operations.
Regardless of how well drafted a policy may be, to ensure their effectiveness these must be communicated clearly. This means that your workplace policies must be made readily available to all your staff, ensuring that they are aware of where to locate these. Induction will play a key role in making sure new employees are aware of all your policies and procedures.
Some employers may opt to collate all their workplace policies and procedures within their staff handbooks into one easily accessible format. Smaller employers may, for example, either provide a new-starter with their own hard copy of the handbook or signpost employees within their contract of employment. For medium or large-sized organisations, a digital copy of the staff handbook would usually be made available to all staff on the intranet site.
Finally, since line managers and senior management are pivotal in implementing and bringing HR policies to life, training is crucial to ensure that managers have a clear understanding of all workplace policies, and also have the capability to implement such policies effectively and fairly.
How often should workplace policies be reviewed?
Once you have put in place your written workplace policies, it is still important to ensure that these remain up-to-date and legally compliant. This means that if there are any important changes in the law you should immediately review your policies to ensure that these reflect the current legal position and are fit for purpose.
If a policy is reviewed and updated, all staff should be made aware of any updates and invited to refresh their understanding of your practices and procedures.
When drafting or revising your workplace policies it is also advisable to seek expert legal advice to ensure you do not fall foul of the law, especially as employment rights and responsibilities can be complex and constantly evolving in line with legislative changes and new caselaw.
DavidsonMorris’ HR and employment law specialists are on hand to advise employers on developing, drafting and reviewing workplace policies. Combining legal expertise with substantial experience of HR best practice, we can support your organisation in ensuring optimal impact from your HR policies and underlying procedures, while mitigating legal risk. For help and advice, contact us.
Workplace policies FAQs
What are the most important policies for a company and why?
Some workplace policies are required by law, such as a health and safety policy. However, it is important for any employer, regardless of size, to set out clear guidance for its’ managers and staff as to how other workplace issues will be handled throughout the lifecycle of the employment relationship, from conduct at work through to termination of employment.
What makes an effective HR policy?
There is no standard format for a HR policy where any policy should be tailored to the needs of the business and workforce in question. However, an effective policy will always be clearly drafted and well-communicated to all managers and members of staff.
Which HR policies are required by law UK?
By law, all employers must have in place a health and safety policy. Employers must also set out in writing their disciplinary and grievance procedures in accordance with the ACAS Code of Practice. That said, there are various other policies that are strongly recommended as a matter of best practice. These include policies on equality, discrimination and harassment.
Last updated: 24 October 2022