The recent decision by Lloyds of London to ban drinking during working hours has provoked massive debate. The organisation reportedly made its stand and introduced a zero tolerance policy when an analysis showed that around half of all disciplinary and grievance cases it was dealing with were alcohol related.
Regardless of your views on whether a lunchtime tipple is acceptable or not, the decision has highlighted the need for clear HR policies on issues that have the potential to pose a risk to clients, customers or colleagues, or those which can affect people’s ability to perform at work.
There are, of course, some employment-related policies which companies are legally obliged to have in place – health and safety and disciplinary and grievance for example. Others are not mandatory but fall into the category of “advisable” if you want to protect the business and its employees.
Policies are important because they make it clear to everyone what is and isn’t acceptable, how people are expected to behave towards one another at work, and what the correct procedure is in the case of any problem or dispute. They don’t have to be overly-complicated documents. Indeed, there’s an argument for making policies as straightforward and concise as possible, so that people are more likely to understand and act on them when necessary.
So, what are some of the policies you might want to consider?
1. Drugs and alcohol
The statistics on drug and alcohol misuse in the UK are alarming. Research suggests that more than nine million people in England drink more than recommended daily limit. In 2015/16, around one in 12 adults aged 16-59 had taken an illicit drug in the last year.
Drug and alcohol abuse undoubtedly has an effect on people’s ability to attend work regularly and perform well, but the implications are wider-reaching. Someone who tips up to work while still under the influence is likely to be more at risk of having an accident or of endangering the safety of colleagues, customers or clients. Of course, it could be detrimental to your reputation if an employee is representing the business while hungover from the night before – or worse, evidently high on an illegal substance.
Putting a policy together on alcohol or drug use can be a difficult balancing act. The rules and consequences must be clear. But there also needs to be the flexibility to consider scenarios where someone might have taken a prescribed drug without knowing the potential side effects, for example. A supportive employer might also want to make it clear to employees that the business will be sympathetic if they have a serious dependency and need to seek help. If you aren’t sure where to draw the line, take a look at rulings from employment tribunals can be helpful, as or will speaking to with legal experts.
Risks associated with driving at work are covered under Health and Safety legislation, with drivers also required to comply with the UK Road Traffic Act and Highway Code. While policies for those whose entire job is driving (such as HGV drivers) tend to be clearly defined, there is often less clarity about those who may be driving their own vehicles on company business – travelling to meetings or to visit clients for example.
In HR Magazine, Daniel Hart, a solicitor-advocate at Nockolds, points out that driving in a work-related capacity comes under the duty of care that companies have for the health and safety of their employees, regardless of whether they are driving a company vehicle or their own. “Breach of this duty can result in criminal prosecution with substantial fines and serious reputational damage,” he says.
HR needs to ensure, therefore, that policies are in place and that they include guidance for employees who are using their own vehicles for work purposes. Key issues to highlight are the need for employees to keep their car in a roadworthy condition and to ensure it is insured for business use.
Employees also need to keep the company in the loop if anything happens that affects their ability to drive safely or legally. If they acquire a motoring conviction, for example, or there are health-related changes (eyesight, medication) which may impact their driving. Employers who expect their people to be contactable while ‘on the move’ also need to be aware of stiffer penalties that have recently been introduced around the use of mobile phones in cars. A policy might be a good place, for example, to reinforce the message that it is illegal to drive or to be in the car with the engine on, while holding a mobile phone.
3. Use of the Internet and IT systems
Having a policy around the use of company ‘facilities’ such as the Internet and email can help to provide useful guidance for staff about what is deemed an acceptable level of activity. It can be a grey area and companies have widely differing approaches. You don’t want your employees to be spending time organising their social life on Facebook or picking up bargains on eBay when they are supposed to be working.
On the other hand, being overly-prescriptive is likely to disengage employees – and certainly won’t encourage them to go the extra mile for you. The key is to develop a policy which clearly establishes the boundaries and sets out your expectations of employees, without being too heavy-handed or overly restrictive. Clear policies about use of internal IT systems and company and client data can help to protect the business against possible breaches of security or fraudulent activity.
Although we all like to think that staff can be trusted (and most of them can) you only have to look at the headlines to see that employee fraud is becoming a serious issue for organisations. Confidential business data going missing, sensitive employee information being leaked, company funds being syphoned off into employees bank accounts … all very real dangers that companies face. Clear rules around the use of company systems will make everyone aware of the correct procedures, will alert people to potentially ‘suspicious’ behaviour and will help to decrease the risk of malicious activity.
Critical next steps
Obviously, identifying appropriate policies for your business and putting them in place is just the first step. Your HR software system is an important tool in making sure policies are easily accessible and have been read. For example, with Cezanne HR, customers can upload the latest policies to the integrated HR portals; generate and distribute personalised policy documents for e-signature, and get automatic reminders when mandatory training events are due for renewal. Since all of this information is stored centrally, with a full history, it’s easy for HR to check that policies have been read, and appropriate training completed.
If you’re just starting out on drafting policies – or just want a refresh – you’ll find useful guidelines on the ACAS website.