The Importance of Written, Regularly Updated Workplace Policies feature image

The Importance of Written, Regularly Updated Workplace Policies

Well-drafted, written, and regularly updated workplace policies are an important tool in every employer’s toolbox. Such policies set out expectations to be followed by everyone in the workplace.

Policies are an effective way for employers to outline and confirm rules and guidelines for employees to follow. They also provide employees with important direction on what to do when they have a complaint or a concern, how to stay safe at work, and similar.

Workplace policies also outline obligations for employers, including how to handle employee complaints.

Common Workplace Policies

Some examples of policies that are often included in employee handbooks or employment contracts:

  • Sexual Harassment Policy;
  • Workplace Violence Policy;
  • Health and Safety Procedures;
  • Non-smoking Policy;
  • Drug and Alcohol Policy;
  • Internet and Email Policy;
  • Privacy Policy;
  • Discipline and Termination Policy;
  • The Use of Social Media Policy;
  • Cellphone Use Policy;
  • Maternity Leave Policy;
  • Temporary Leave Policy;
  • Code of Conduct.

Workplace policies can be part employment contracts or they can be standalone documents, such as an employee handbook. By having workplace policies in employment agreements, employees are fully aware of what is expected of them while they are in and out of the workplace. With respect to health and safety policies, they should be posted where employees can see them, such as in the breakroom. Employee handbooks are also useful because it provides employees and employers with a document they can readily access and refer back to when needed.

Policies cover a wide range of areas pertinent to both employers and employees.  These policies are very important to the day-to-day functioning of a business and they can greatly affect the lives of employees.

The Employment Standards Code and Policies

The Employment Standards Code governs provincially regulated workplaces in Alberta (which are the majority of workplaces in the province, unless an employer is in the banking, aviation, broadcasting and telecommunications, and other federally regulated sectors).

The Code helps to protect both employees and employers. It not just provides the foundation of rights and obligations that must be included in employment contracts,  but also provides guidance as to what should be included in workplace policies. Not all minimum standards will be outlined in an employment contract if workplace policies are not included in that contract. For example, termination, leave, maternity leave, and violence are policies that the Code provides minimum requirements for that are often not included in contracts.

Employers should regularly review their workplace policies keeping the Code in mind. This is particularly important when changes are made to the Code or where precedent setting employment decisions come out of the court. Regular review of policies allows employers to make sure they are continuing to meet their obligations under the Code. By not doing so,  an employer may open themselves up to potential litigation.

 Workplace Policy Best Practices

Businesses can have a variety of workplace policies and they can be as detailed or as simple as the workforce requires. An employment lawyer is a great resource because they have the knowledge and experience to draft thorough workplace policies. If your business already has workplace policies, an employment lawyer can help review and update your policies.

Depending on the type of business you run, you may want to include more detailed terms dealing with specific issues that may arise in your workplace, but may not be present in all workplaces. For example: on an oil rig, there should be specific safety policies, like drug testing, in place. Whereas in a clothing store, a safety policy should exist (accidents happen everywhere), but it might not have to go into extensive detail as the work is not precarious and dangerous like the work on an oil rig. Ultimately, it will depend on the type of work that is done, the type of employees there are, how many there are, and how big of a business it is.

Workplace Policies Should Be Updated Regularly

Regardless of how big or small your business is, if you employ people, you should have some kind of handbook or document that outlines the different policies of your workplace. If there are people who interact with one another, or there is a possibility they will interact with each other, you need to have something outlining what kind of behaviour is inappropriate, and how to deal with said inappropriate behavior. While this seems like common sense, the news reports and statistics tell us that for some people, it is not common sense.

Following the changes to the Code at the beginning of this year, employers must include a harassment policy in their employee handbooks or employment contracts. The changes to the Code are meant to make the workplace more family-friendly, and workplaces will, without question, have to update their policies to match what is expected of employers by the government and society. Due to the pervasive nature of workplace policies, it is important to make sure that the policies are clear, easy to understand and cover all important aspects of the topic they are about.

As our society changes to have more inclusive and respectful workplaces, employers will have to adapt. At HMC Lawyers LLP, our Employment Team has the experience and the knowledge to advise employers on how to adapt and create their workplace policies to reflect the values of today’s society. To book a consultation, call 1-800-480-3534 or contact us online. We represent clients in Calgary, throughout Alberta, and across Western Canada.

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