As an employer, you are legally responsible for the conduct of your employees during employment, unless you can demonstrate you took reasonable steps to prevent the conduct occurring. Therefore, you must set clear expectations with your employees on their behaviour and conduct at work. Three key employment policies that your business should have include:

  1. work health and safety policies;
  2. anti-discrimination, harassment and bullying policies; and
  3. IT policies.

This article will explain what each of these policies covers and what you need to look out for to ensure your business is protected.

Work Health and Safety Policy

Businesses have statutory obligations to comply with work health and safety (WHS) legislation. Here, you must ensure the health and safety of your: 

  • employees;
  • contractors; and
  • visitors. 

Employees and ‘officers’ of a business also have their own obligations. Some crucial provisions to include in a WHS Policy include outlining:

  • the employer’s obligations;
  • workers’ obligations;
  • officers’ obligations;
  • risk management procedures;
  • how to deal with dispose of hazardous chemicals;
  • how to report hazards;
  • injury and incident recording procedures;
  • first aid procedures; and
  • emergency preparedness.

Anti-Discrimination, Harassment and Bullying Policy

Businesses have duties to protect employees from workplace: 

  • discrimination;
  • harassment; and
  • bullying.

You should make sure that your business has a policy which sets out very clear expectations around discrimination, harassment and bullying. Within this policy, it is crucial that you define what each of those terms means in the workplace and then implement those standards.

The policy has to be detailed enough for the employee to understand what is appropriate in the workplace.

Policies Need to Be Specific

A landmark court case considered the technical requirements that you must include in a harassment policy for it to be effective. In this case, the court held that a female employee had been sexually harassed by her male co-worker and that the employer was legally responsible for its employee’s behaviour. This was because the workplace had not taken all reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment from occurring.

The employer had provided its employees with a code of ethics which prohibited sexual harassment. However, it did not outline to employees that sexual harassment was unlawful. Employees were required to carry out online sexual harassment training every two years.

The reason the policy was deemed to not be effective was that national sexual harassment guidelines suggested that employers include a statement in their sexual harassment policies telling employees that:

  • sexual harassment is against the law; and 
  • employers may be legally responsible for the sexual harassment perpetrated by an employee.

The judge also held that a harassment policy is not going to be effective if it does not actually include the legislation under which harassment is prohibited.

How to Protect Your Business From Harassment Claims

To protect your business and avoid a successful claim being made, you must take all reasonable steps to prevent harassment from occurring in your workplace. To do this, you should:

  • have an anti-discrimination, harassment and bullying policy;
  • carry out regular training around harassment awareness;
  • ensure this training aligns with harassment laws; and
  • swiftly investigate any complaints and take appropriate action to address any incidents.

IT Policy

An IT policy will outline how employees are expected to use: 

  • their email;
  • the company’s IT systems;
  • the internet; and 
  • social media.

For example, you may want to regulate what your employees post about the business on social media. Alternatively, you may want to prevent employees from sending out spam or junk emails.

One of the most important provisions of the policy is how the business is allowed to surveil your employees’ use of IT. Different states have different legislation on how the business can carry out surveillance. New South Wales (NSW), Victoria (VIC) and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) all have their own targeted surveillance legislation. 

In NSW, you must provide 14 days’ notice to the employee prior to starting any surveillance, or let them know about it before they commence employment. The ACT has similar provisions.

In NSW, you must indicate:

  • the kind of surveillance you will carry out;
  • how you will carry out the surveillance; 
  • when the surveillance starts;
  • whether the surveillance will be continuous or intermittent; and
  • whether the surveillance will be for a specified period or ongoing.

VIC has older surveillance legislation which predominantly deals with the unlawful monitoring and recording of staff using video and audio devices. 

Key Takeaways

To protect your business against any legal action from employees, you must have detailed and up-to-date employment policies which show you take reasonable steps to prevent conduct occurring. Three key policies include an:

  • IT policy;
  • work health and safety policy; and
  • anti-discrimination, harassment and bullying policy.

If you have any questions about these policies or would like to have one drafted, contact LegalVision’s employment lawyers on 1300 544 755 or fill out the form on this page.

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