3 company policies you should have in writing

Nick Stanley
By Nick Stanley

Putting important company policies and procedures in writing makes good sense.

It compels you to think about how you want your workplace to run and the things you want to emphasise, and it makes these rules and guidelines official so you can show your employees what you expect from them and what they can expect from you.

Some businesses – especially small ones – can get by on verbal instructions and tacit understanding, but in the long run, not having important company policies written down can lead to misunderstandings, disagreements, and mishaps.

There is a balance to be struck, however. Having a policy on absolutely every aspect of the business could be just as dangerous as having none at all because you (or your managers) could get tripped up by not knowing about or not following all the rules.

Keep the policies simple. The aim is for everyone to understand and adopt them. They should provide useful information on responsibilities and rights in crucial areas, supporting but not duplicating or contradicting individual employment agreements.

They should also be living documents, not something that's created to be filed away and forgotten. Laws can change or the business may shift focus and nature of the work being done may alter, so make sure the policies are reviewed and updated regularly.

Here are the 3 most important policies that we recommend you have written down and stored somewhere they can be easily shared.

1. Health and safety

New Zealand has a pretty shoddy workplace health and safety record. In the past few years, changes to health and safety (H&S) regulations have sought to address this by shifting the focus from monitoring and recording incidents to proactively identifying and managing risks.

By law, your business needs ensure workers' health and safety and manage work risks ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’. You also need to make sure information about H&S is shared with workers, and workers are engaged in H&S matters.

While there is no legal obligation to write down your risk-management efforts, having a written H&S policy will help ensure you have identified and managed all the risks. Every business and workplace is different, so thinking systematically will mean your health and safety efforts are tailored to the specific needs of your company.

The policy doesn’t need to be long but it should describe, in clear and simple terms, how your workplace will be kept safe and healthy and the procedures necessary to achieve it. The aim is to build an H&S culture that’s open and collaborative, so all your team members are involved and understand what they need to do.

Aside from keeping your workplace safe and ensuring you meet your legal responsibilities, having a H&S policy will increase productivity, reduce absenteeism, and give your workers, management, and customers confidence and peace of mind.

Find out more about creating H&S documents at WorkSafe.

2. Bullying and harassment

Part of keeping workers safe and healthy is making sure your workplace is free from intimidation and inappropriate behaviour.

Workplace bullying and harassment (including sexual harassment) is a serious issue in New Zealand - studies suggest that as many as one in three workers experience some form of bullying or harassment each year.

This is important. Bullying and harassment can create a risk to health and safety, affecting people physically and mentally, disrupting your workplace, and reducing productivity.

A bullying and harassment policy will help build a company culture where all people are respected. It helps set the example of what is acceptable in the workplace and clarifies the rights and obligations of employees and managers.

The policy should define the reporting process, and document how your business will handle issues and seek to resolve them. By law, bullying, harassment, and discrimination must be investigated and the person affected must be supported by the employer.

Make sure every employee is aware of the policy when they sign their employment agreement, and make sure it is a living document that is regularly reviewed. And like all workplace policies, if management isn't seen to support and model it, having it in writing will do more harm than good.

Find out more about bullying and harassment at Employment NZ.

3. Code of conduct

Once you have the essential health and safety policies covered, you can then develop a flexible code of conduct (you may want to call it a handbook or policy manual).

The code doesn't have to be complex but should cover a range of general expectations for everyone in the business.

It needs to articulate the values the company wants to foster in leaders and team members, aligning standards of professional behaviour with the company's own values, principles, and mission.

While a code can't prevent inappropriate or illegal conduct, it should provide employees with a set of ethical guidelines to empower their decision-making and make it clear what the consequences of breaching these standards could be.

A code of conduct can be an important step in establishing an honest, inclusive culture, but simply requiring team members to read it isn’t enough. You should view it as part of an ongoing process that requires improvement, reinforcement, and training.

The scope of the code will be determined by the particulars of your business, but will usually cover the use of company assets and resources, protecting confidential information, avoiding conflicts of interest, and complying with laws and regulations.

Depending on your business type and industry, some of the key areas we recommend covering in your code of conduct are:

Customer service standards

Every business should have a basic expectation for employees to provide good customer or client service. Having written standards will help define the level of service a customer can expect (e.g. receiving the correct order within 5 days) and remind management and employees what their obligations are when interacting with customers (e.g. treating customers with courtesy and respect).

Equal opportunities

Equal employment opportunities (EEO) is about creating a workplace that values diversity and enables all workers to contribute to their full potential.

While there is no legislation in New Zealand requiring private companies to implement EEO, it is unlawful to discriminate against an employee (or potential employee) on certain, specified grounds, e.g. gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, race, religion, or political beliefs.

Putting equal opportunities in writing helps create a fair workplace environment and lets people know that basic human rights are non-negotiable.

IT and device use

Having a clearly written information technology (IT) usage policy is a good way to set ground rules for what staff can and can't do on and with technology in the workplace.

Your company could be held responsible for the actions of employees on your network, so having IT usage standards can help minimise the risks and potential costs.

Make sure you regularly review and update the policy. Technology is changing rapidly and the way we work changes with it, so you'll need to keep adapting to ensure your business data and IT systems are safe and secure.

Expense claims management

If your people have some authority to spend company money in the course of doing their job, it is critical - both for tax and financial conduct purposes - to have clearly established rules and processes for managing expense claims.

Your expense claims policy should inform employees of their entitlements for reimbursement, any rates and conditions, and the process for claiming expenses.

A good expenses policy can simplify expense management, making it easier (and faster) for your finance team to assess and resolve expense claims while improving employees’ compliance.

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