Topic overview

Employment policies

Female office worker with short dark hair and glasses

The right employment policies are an essential part of effective employee management. In an ideal world, you would anticipate the key issues that are likely to arise and draw up employment policies to cover them. That way employees will know exactly what's expected of them. And if an unexpected question or problem crops up, you can use the experience to prepare a policy to cover similar events in future.

Key employment policies

Ideally, you should have company policies covering all the main human resources issues. These company policies help ensure that you know how to deal with common situations and take a consistent approach.

Some employment policies are a legal requirement or can have substantial legal impact. For example, you must have written grievance and disciplinary rules and procedures, and all but the smallest businesses must have a written health and safety policy. Other key policies might include data protection and equal opportunities policies.

Other corporate policies might primarily be driven by practical issues, such as reimbursement of employee expenses. Even then, these policies will need to ensure that you comply with any relevant legal requirements. For example, a company smoking policy needs to prohibit smoking inside business premises, while your policy on sick pay must at least match statutory requirements.

Internet use policy and email policy

For many businesses, an internet usage policy and email policy have become increasingly important over recent years.

In practical terms, the internet use policy and email policy aim to ensure that employees make the most effective use of the internet - but without wasting time on personal chat, social networking and so on. Your internet use policy should include steps to minimise security risks, for example by only allowing authorised employees to download and install software.

At the same time, your email and internet usage policies should address potential legal risks. Your policies should help ensure that employees do not abuse other people's copyright or use email or social networking such as Twitter or a blog to harass or defame anyone, including work colleagues. You should aim to ensure that employees understand the potential contractual implications of email and internet use (eg online purchasing) and are aware of any restrictions you impose.

Effective company policies

Whatever your policies cover, you should follow a few essential principles to make a company policy effective.

Make sure any employment policy is clear, and is communicated to employees. Unless employees understand an employment policy it will not work. Simply including a policy in an employee handbook is not enough - you need to draw it to employees' attention, and if appropriate back it up with training.

At the same time, it's worth considering what other practical steps you can take to reinforce and support a policy. For example, an internet usage policy on its own is not enough to protect your systems: you'll want to take other security measures as well.

Finally, it is essential to create realistic employment policies - and enforce them. Using a policy to pay lip service to health and safety or treating employees fairly is not enough. If the worst happens and a problem ends up in court or at an employment tribunal, you'll need to be able to show that you put your company policies into practice.

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