Articles > Employment

The Importance of Workplace Policies and Staff Handbooks

August 19, 2021   Philip Evangelou

When operating a business, it is imperative that all levels of staff understand their duties, obligations and responsibilities. Using workplace policies or a staff handbook enables top level management to effectively do this. 

Such documents are useful as they clearly set out the workplace policies and methods which all staff members should follow in order to:

  • Create a safe work environment; and
  • an effective workplace where staff are working cohesively.

Workplace policies and staff handbooks, unlike employment contracts, contain rules and procedures which apply to all staff members. They are hugely effective in creating a strong foundation for your workplace culture, hence making it a great place to work. 

This leads to common questions like what are staff handbooks and workplace policies, and what should be included in them. 

What is a Workplace Policy?

Workplace policy is a document used to outline an organisation’s procedures and operations in relation to a particular area of its business. Workplace policy documents can be quite diverse, stipulating expectations in a range of areas including:

  • Employee behaviour and responsibilities;
  • Day-to-day operational matters; and 
  • Compliance with statutory requirements. 

Workplace policy documents should be used and referred to regularly by your business in order to consistently maintain high standards and upkeep your business’ values and culture. 

A workplace policy document that is written clearly and concisely will set out employee expectations, while also providing employees with a benchmark which they should continually strive to achieve. 

Why Should I have a Workplace Policy?

Workplace policies are important as they form the cornerstone of a businesses culture and procedures. 

There are a number of reasons why your business should implement a workplace policy document:

  • Providing employees with a clear and accessible record of the roles and core value they are expected to maintain;
  • Ensuring a consistent and fair approach is employed when managing workplace and operational issues;
  • It saves time on a day-to-day basis as all the procedures, expectations and core values are placed in the one document; and 
  • When issues of workplace disputes or employee misconduct arise management are able to refer back to the core values and rules.

Workplace policy documents help businesses meet certain obligations and responsibilities under national and state legislation through the introduction of core policies. Core policies are those which stipulate important areas relating to Workplace Health & Safety (WHS), anti-discrimination and information technology policy. Introducing core values into workplace policy document is necessary to protect the liability of employers in cases of discrimination and WHS issues, per the Australian Human Rights Commission.  

Employers bear the onus of demonstrating all reasonable steps taken to prevent discrimination in cases where there employees have acted discriminately. Failure to do so may mean your business is vicariously liable. A well written workplace policy document may stand as ‘reasonable steps’ taken by an employer to prevent workplace discrimination. 

What do Workplace Policy Documents look like?

There are many types of workplace policy documents and they can vary across industries. Things that are commonly included in Workplace Policy documents are:

  • A Code of conduct;
  • Rules related to drug and alcohol consumption;
  • WHS requirements;
  • Workplace grievance procedure;
  • Disciplinary and termination rules; 
  • Recruitment and training guidelines; 
  • Workplace discrimination and harassment expectations.

What is a Staff Handbook?

A staff handbook combines employment and day-to-day job information, which employees must be aware of, into a single document. This makes all the necessary information and rules readily accessible to all. 

While it is not a legal requirement, a staff handbook is useful as it will help employees deal with any workplace issues they may face, by allowing them to easily refer back to the document. 

What Should a Staff Handbook Include?

While a staff handbook is not limited in what it may address, three common matters addressed are:

  1. General staff information: Including holidays, sick leave, company perks such as discounts at certain venues, as well as leave entitlements and how leave is approved.  
  2. Culture: This commonly includes a description of a company’s values, purpose and mission statement.
  3. Company-specific information: Company dress codes and uniforms, internet and email policy, company specific policy and grievance procedures. 

A staff handbook can also mitigate a business’ risk in a variety of situations. For example if a previous employee believes they have been unfairly dismissed, having a staff handbook can be used to prove that they were aware of all the expectations and requirements of their particular role. 

Key Takeaways 

A well written workplace policy document and staff handbook should clearly and concisely encompass various issues such as company specific information, workplace culture, staff information, codes of conduct and legislative compliance. 

Workplace policy and staff handbooks are useful tools that not only mitigate certain risks, but also induce a desired culture, ensure workplaces are running smoothly and effectively, as well as setting employee benchmarks and obligations. 

About Philip Evangelou

phillipPhil is a director at OpenLegal. He has over 16 years experience working in private practice and in-house counsel in Sydney and London, giving him expertise in employment law, IP, finance, leases, dispute resolution, insurance and contracts.