Essential guide to everyday workplace policies

Everyday workplace policies

Managing workers and employees people takes time and resources. You can save yourself a lot of time and effort and avoid potentially damaging employee grievances and disputes by having clear workplace policies and procedures on many everyday issues.

Key policies include how you induct new employees, rules on employee behaviour and how you deal with absence. Separately you will want policies that address key employment law issues.

Get employment right from the start

Working together

Inappropriate conduct

Workplace rules


Lateness and absence

Expenses and theft



1. Get employment right from the start

It pays to invest time in recruiting quality staff and setting them up properly in their jobs.

Provide every employee and worker (full- or part-time) with an employment contract and written statement of employment

  • This should be a clear agreement, covering the essential terms and conditions of employment.
  • Include a detailed job description, but one that does not limit the person's role.
  • You also need written agreements for self-employed workers.

Develop a systematic induction process to help new employees find their feet quickly

  • Tell them about the company, their co-workers, details about the workplace as well as about their jobs.

Provide a company handbook for new employees

  • It should set out your policies on issues that could not be covered in detail in the contract.
  • Include details of your disciplinary procedure and grievance procedure.
  • Tell new employees who they can approach if they have a grievance.
  • Run through the handbook as part of the induction process.

Schedule a performance appraisal after a short probationary period

2. Working together

Clarify who does what in the team, to avoid misunderstandings

  • Create a fair division of labour for tasks. It is often minor issues that undermine teamwork.

Make it clear that everyone is expected to answer the enquiries if necessary

  • Even if you have a receptionist, the phone should be answered within a certain number of rings.
  • Include telephone and email etiquette training as part of the induction process. Train all employees how to handle enquiries, take and pass on messages and calls.

3. Inappropriate conduct

State your position on antisocial behaviour

  • Make persistent rudeness, lewdness or swearing disciplinary offences.
  • Make it clear that racist, sexist, homophobic and other discriminatory behaviour will not be tolerated.

Explain that all employees are expected to dress appropriately

  • Employees should also maintain reasonable standards of hygiene.
  • If protective clothing is necessary, supply it and make sure it is worn.
  • If it is important for certain employees, such as frontline staff, to present a smart appearance, spell this out.
  • Do not discriminate.

Spell out what constitutes gross misconduct

  • Theft, fraud, violence and the possession or use of drugs and alcohol are usually regarded as gross misconduct.
  • Consider suspending the employee on full pay while you investigate the incident.
  • Follow the Acas Code of Practice which sets out 'fair and reasonable' procedures.

Disciplinary procedure

Acas issues the Code of Practice on discipline and grievance outlining what is considered 'fair and reasonable' behaviour when dealing with workplace problems. Unreasonable failure to follow the Code can result in a 25% increase in any tribunal award.

Employers and employees should attempt to resolve any disputes informally - perhaps through mediation - before instigating formal procedures. However, where this does not resolve the issue, you should ensure your procedures are fair and transparent.

  • Investigate the facts.
  • If there is a case to answer, you should write to the employee outlining the problem.
  • Hold a face-to-face meeting to discuss the problem. Employees have the right to be accompanied by a colleague or trade union representative.
  • Decide on appropriate action.
  • Give the employee an opportunity to appeal against the finding.

4. Workplace rules

Set a realistic policy on receiving personal phone calls and messages

  • Discourage personal calls during work. There are some situations where stopping to take a call or message would be seriously disruptive.
  • Tell employees that they should keep personal calls to a minimum or limit them to break periods.
  • Understand that sometimes receiving a personal call may be unavoidable, particularly where employees have dependants.

Set a policy on the use of work phones

  • Ban international calls unless it is a requirement of the job.
  • Explain that you periodically analyse phone usage to prevent abuse.
  • Be careful about monitoring calls. You may fall foul of data protection laws.

You may need to limit personal visitors

  • Visitors should stay in the reception area, unless the employee has permission to show them around.

Explain your policy on health and safety

  • Employees are responsible for their own safety and that of others.
  • Make breaching your health and safety rules a disciplinary offence.

Establish policies on the use of social media, email and the internet

  • At the very least, make it clear that employees cannot criticise the company, clients, products or other workers online, even in their own time.
  • Remind employees of your confidentiality agreement and data protection rules.
  • Stress that they must behave appropriately both face-to-face and online.
  • Personal email, online shopping and social media can waste a lot of time. Make it clear what is and what isn't acceptable.
  • The company may be liable for anything downloaded from the internet such as copyright material and inappropriate or illegal content.
  • Outline how your company uses social media, who is responsible for company social media accounts and set out clear rules on what they can say and do.

Do not let people download software or connect to online games from company devices

  • Consider restricting who can download and install software on your system.
  • Increasingly employees use their own devices to receive calls or emails - particularly out of hours. Consider whether you need a BYOD (bring your own device) policy and the implications for data protection.

Communicate your no-smoking policy

  • All enclosed UK workplaces, company cars and vans are required to be smoke free.
  • Many companies have also banned the use of e-cigarettes.
  • All enclosed workplaces must display no-smoking signs.

Companies are increasingly operating hybrid working arrangements

  • Make sure your policies do not discriminate against remote, mobile and homeworkers.
  • Make it clear when and where employees are expected to be working. You might require homeworkers to periodically to work in the office.
  • Check that sufficient health and safety checks are made for homeworkers and that suitable insurance is in place.
  • Make it clear what expenses the company will pay (perhaps broadband, phone and an allowance for utilities) and what equipment will be provided.

Establish a policy on employees' use of their own cars for company business

  • Insurance can be a problem, so take advice from your broker.
  • Ask employees to confirm, in writing, that their private insurance covers them for business use of the vehicle.

5. Holidays

Decide how holiday dates are to be allocated and how you will cover holiday periods

  • Most companies work on a 'first come, first served' system.
  • Many companies put a limit on the amount of holiday that can be taken at any one time.

Set out your position on holiday rollovers

  • For example, you might stipulate that no more than one week's holiday can be rolled over into the next year.

Establish policies on bank holidays and time off in lieu

Make it clear that employees need permission to take any unpaid leave

  • Any extended periods away from the workplace should be agreed in advance.

6. Lateness and absence

If you have standard working hours, make persistent lateness a disciplinary issue

  • Ask employees to let you know if they are going to be late, and to report to their managers on arrival.

You cannot expect people to come to work if they are genuinely ill

  • You can decide how much you are going to pay them, beyond the limits of statutory sick pay.
  • You may want to set a limit on how much and for how long you will pay, but make exceptions where appropriate.
  • Have a policy of monitoring absences and issue warnings when absences become unacceptable.

Set out your policy on leave and pay for maternity, paternity and adoptive parents

  • Make sure your policy conforms to legal requirements.
  • Employees are also entitled to unpaid parental leave.

All employees have a legal right to dependant care leave

  • Workers can take 'reasonable' unpaid time off to deal with an emergency involving a dependant.
  • With the illness or death of relatives, it will pay to be compassionate.
  • All employed parents have the right to two weeks' leave if they lose a child under the age of 18, or suffer a stillbirth from 24 weeks of pregnancy. Eligible parents will be able to claim pay for this period.

All employed parents have a legal right to parental bereavement leave

  • Parents have the right to one- or two-weeks' leave if they lose a child under the age of 18 or suffer a stillbirth from 24 weeks of pregnancy. Leave is paid for eligible parents.

Decide your policy on absences due to domestic problems

  • Be realistic. People with serious domestic issues are likely to feel their own problems must take priority over work.
  • More minor domestic problems, such as a burst water pipe, may also require an employee to take time off.

You will also need a policy on jury service

  • You may want to continue paying staff, though the law does not oblige you to.
  • You might want to set a limit. Many companies pay people for two weeks.
  • It is illegal to subject employees to any detriment if they accept a call to jury service.

There are other reasons why people may have absences from work

  • For example, reserve service in the armed forces, or being a magistrate or school governor.
  • Ensure you have a policy to cover such absences.

7. Expenses and theft

Nip potential problems in the bud with clear policies on dishonesty.

Lay down rules about the type and scale of expenses employees can claim

  • Set guidelines for meals, overnight accommodation and travel.
  • What other expenses are allowable?
  • What can be spent on client entertainment?
  • Most company credit cards allow you to set employee spending limits.

Emphasise that expenses claims will be checked

  • Make it clear that falsifying claims is theft and therefore a disciplinary offence.
  • Insist on receipts as proof of expenditure (and for VAT purposes).
  • All expenses should be signed off by the employee's line manager.

Take steps to prevent petty theft

  • Give one person responsibility for the most likely targets - stationery, stamps and cash.
  • Keep a detailed register of company assets such as mobile phones and laptops, including the serial number of each item and details of who is responsible for it.
  • Decide what can be taken out of the office (eg laptops and tablets) and any procedures that must be followed.
  • Make it clear that police will be involved in investigating any theft.

8. Confidentiality

Divulging trade secrets to a competitor could be grounds for dismissal

  • Consider restricting such information to those who need to know.
  • Make confidentiality a requirement for all staff - especially those active on social media.
  • If necessary, ask employees to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

Explain the need for data security and discretion in relation to sensitive information and data

Decide which information must be kept secured or locked away

  • For example, personnel files and payroll details.
  • Limit information to those who are authorised or need to know in order to do their job, particularly where the information is of a sensitive, personal nature.

Encrypt any data held on laptops, tablets and other mobile devices including phones

  • Consider setting up 'remote kill' on any mobile equipment containing sensitive information or data.

9. Departures

Do not wait until someone leaves before you explain the procedures involved.

Keep notice periods as short as possible

  • Consider how long it would take to find and train a replacement.
  • Even the most conscientious people will be gone, in spirit, if not in body, once they have given in their notice.
  • In cases of redundancy or dismissal, it is common for employees to leave straight away and receive pay in lieu of notice if the employment contract permits it.

There should be a job handover where appropriate

  • This works best if the employee is leaving on good terms.
  • Get leavers to create 'job packs' for their successors, listing important contacts and information.

Use a checklist to identify company property that must be returned

  • For example, keys, credit card, security pass, car, laptop and mobile phone.

There is no obligation for the company to contribute to a leaving gift


Expert quotes

"A policy is a framework which makes people feel safe, especially when they start a new job." - Simon Macaulay, Anglo Recycling Technology

"It is essential that managers are familiar with the policies of the organisation. Failure to apply them could lead to claims of Breach of Contract." - Jim Givens, HR Management Solutions

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