Not only do good workplace policies provide much needed clarity to employees, if they are well drafted they can prove invaluable to employers trying to navigate their way through the tricky HR issues that inevitably arise in the day-to-day running of a business or organisation.
Complaints can be costly and complex and very often an employer is exposed for not having or following appropriate policies and procedures. From a risk management perspective, ensuring compliance with employment legislation and due process is more important than ever with the level of claims increasing year on year and with the reputational risks attached to non-compliance. With many organisations also growing and expanding their operations and their workforces, now is the time to revisit and review compliance with employment legislation.
The important thing for an employer is to get their policies right from the start and then follow them!
One of the most important policies to have in place is a good disciplinary policy. Section 14 of the Unfair Dismissal Acts 1977-2017 compels an employer to provide each employee (within 28 days of entering into the employment contract) with the procedure that will be observed before, and for the purpose of, any dismissal.
Since there is an obligation on an employer to provide a disciplinary policy anyway – why not use it correctly? Employers shouldn’t underestimate how much money and time can be saved in the long run if they invest in preparing a fit for purpose disciplinary policy that can later be followed to ensure all of the legally required steps in a disciplinary process are followed. An employer who has carefully followed a good disciplinary process will almost invariably significantly reduce the risk of a successful claim for unfair dismissal claim against them or at least mitigate the amount of any monetary award on foot of same.
On the other hand, where an employer adopts a poor disciplinary process the employer will find itself in hot water very quickly. Bad disciplinary processes can lead not only to successful unfair dismissal claims but in some cases even High Court injunctions.
This important process allows employees an internal forum within which to air their grievances. It also gives the employer an opportunity to consider and deal with problems before they escalate into bigger issues.
Dignity at Work policies:
A “Dignity at Work” policy will usually provide for what constitutes bullying and/ or harassment in the workplace and how complaints of such behaviour can be raised. It will also set out the steps to be followed to deal with such complaints. Employers not only have a duty to deal with harassment when it arises, they also have a duty to educate their workforce about what constitutes harassment. A good policy - properly communicated to staff - can achieve this.
With the introduction of the Protected Disclosures Act 2014, our society has become ever more aware of the need to protect those who “blow the whistle” on bad practices. It is now well established that such employees cannot be penalised as a result of having made a protected disclosure in line with the legislation.
While the legislation applies to all, at present only public bodies have a mandatory obligation to put in place a designated whistleblowing policy. However, whether you are a public or private sector employer, having a protected disclosure policy in place can be as highly beneficial for the employer as for the employee. For the employee it provides a structured way of raising a legitimate concern about a potential relevant wrongdoing without fear of reprisal for doing so. For the employer a clear whistleblowing policy has the advantage of maximising the chances of catching a relevant wrongdoing early and dealing with it head on internally before it becomes a legal and reputational disaster.
Hollywood Harassment – “Dignity at work” versus “Protected Disclosure”?:
With the volume of Hollywood harassment and sexual harassment allegations that have surfaced of late, the need for clear policies in the workplace dealing with such matters is all the more prominent. One legal issue that arises on this point is how an employer should deal with such allegations where they are of a historical nature. An employer who has a duty to balance the rights of all parties involved may find itself in a difficult situation in that it may not be immediately possible to conduct a full blown investigation of an old allegation in the same way as it would if the allegation related to more recent events.
In that situation where an employer has a whistleblowing policy in place, one possible option might be to consider the historical allegation as a protected disclosures rather than a complaint under the dignity at work policy, so that the concerns raised can be fully reviewed and dealt with appropriately but not necessarily by way of the ordinary rigid investigation process provided for under a Dignity at Work policy.
While the above mentioned policies are probably the most commonly used policies there are a whole host of other policies that can be considered by an employer in order to assist them in the smooth running of their business. For instance in most modern day workplaces employers should also probably be looking at the likes of information technology useage polices and updated, fit for purpose data protection policies as well as many other industry specific policies appropriate to their business.
The takeaway lesson, is that there is no substitute for well thought out, well drafted policies, which are then properly communicated to staff and put into practice in the workplace. For an employer, it can be money and time well spent to take the necessary advice to get their policies right.