Top 5 employment policies that every employer should have

Tue 8th Mar 2016

Employment policies are vital to ensure that both employers and employees understand their respective obligations, and how the working relationship should operate. Certain policies can bolster an employer’s position and are highly advisable. We have set out our top 5 employment policies that no employer should be without:-

Disciplinary procedure/policy

There is a legal requirement to include information regarding disciplinary procedures in an employee’s contract of employment (and grievance procedures for that matter), or alternatively to direct them to a document that sets them out.

A disciplinary procedure sets out the expected standards of conduct and provides examples of when the employer may take disciplinary action. This ensures employees understand conduct that is – and is not – acceptable. Importantly, it enables an employer to take action if an employee’s conduct falls short of the required level and ensures that employees are treated consistently. It is useful to have a clear procedure which sets out stages of the process, covering the various levels of sanction which may be used, such as written warnings, and potentially dismissal.

That is not to say you cannot take disciplinary action without a disciplinary policy, but an employer’s position will be much better protected if it has, and follows, an up-to-date policy that is compliant with the ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures, particularly bearing in mind that an Employment Tribunal has discretion to increase compensation due to an employee by up to 25% in the event of a successful claim.

Equal Opportunities policy

It’s not a legal obligation to have an equal opportunities policy, but the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) recommends in its Code that employers have one, and Employment Tribunals can take compliance with the Code into account when deciding if discrimination has occurred. In addition, if an equal opportunities policy is implemented with suitable training and publicity (and is endorsed at the highest level of the employer) it can provide the employer with a ‘reasonable steps’ defence, even in the event that discrimination has occurred. So a well-drafted, implemented and publicised policy can be an important aspect of an employer’s defence when facing a claim of discrimination.

An equal opportunities policy is an opportunity for an employer to show its commitment to avoiding discrimination in the workplace by promoting equal opportunities for all individuals within the business. Aside from the legal advantages described above, this can help foster good working relationships, and minimise the risk of discrimination arising, particularly if backed up by good training for all staff. Many tender processes (particularly those in the public sector) are likely to raise queries regarding equal opportunities within the workplace – another reason to ensure there’s a suitable policy in place.

Data protection and Social Media policy

Again, it’s not a legal requirement to have a data protection and/or social media policy, but having one in place can help to ensure compliance with the relevant laws. The law requires data to be processed fairly, and a requirement of fair processing is that data subjects are told of the purposes for which the data employers hold about them is intended to be processed. Including this information in a policy is one way of ensuring this is done.

In addition, with social media becoming ever more utilised tool in the workplace, it is essential to retain some degree of control over employees’ activities online. This is particularly relevant if individuals have accounts related to their job role, and they can post on work-related matters. This policy should reserve the employer’s ability to monitor IT (including email) and social media usage, to ensure that employees are using these media responsibly and in a manner which cannot be detrimental to the employer. It is vital to have clear guidelines on what constitutes acceptable usage, and reserve the right to deal with any breach of this in accordance with the disciplinary procedure.

Absence Management policy

It is a legal requirement to inform employees in their contract or in another accessible document the terms for dealing with sickness absence, including sick pay arrangements. An absence management policy enables an employer to keep on top of issues such as sickness and poor attendance. Having clear guidelines on how and when action may be taken regarding absence will help employers actively manage these issues, in a way that employees can understand and that is consistent between employees, teams and parts of the business. This may help avoid claims for discrimination, disability often being an important consideration. It is helpful to set out clear stages of any procedure so that both employer and employee know what to expect.

Whistleblowing policy

For some organisations a whistleblowing policy is a legal obligation. Listed companies are required to have a policy (or to explain why they do not), public bodies are expected by the government to have one, and US companies (and subsidiaries) are obliged by US law to have an appropriate procedure. Even if an organisation falls outside these categories, it’s still highly advisable to have a whistleblowing policy in place as, in a similar vein to the equal opportunities policy, it can provide an employer with protection in certain circumstances. If an employee makes a ‘wider’ disclosure, for example, to the press, without first following the internal process, the disclosure is less likely to be considered ‘protected’ for the purposes of the law.

A whistleblowing policy should explain to employees how they go about raising any concerns they may have about wrongdoing or danger in the workplace. Aside from the legal benefits to employers, having an effective whistleblowing policy will reassure employees they can raise such issues in confidence and without fear of reprisal.

So the title of this article is about the Top 5 policies, but we should also mention some others that are important. Grievance and health and safety policies are also a legal requirement (and certain pensions information should be provided in either the contract or a policy). A bribery policy should also be considered. Like the equal opportunities policy, a bribery policy can assist an employer and provide a defence in in that it has appropriate procedures in place to prevent bribery taking place. A policy is an obvious way of ensuring this.

Our experience is that managers can sometimes be reluctant to put policies into place. This can be for various reasons, – feeling they add another layer of paperwork, are not necessary or will simply invite ‘trouble’. Our experience is that well-drafted policies ensure consistency between employees, provide a framework for dealing with issues in a lawful manner, and, as outlined above, can actually provide employers with protection in many circumstances.