Being stood down or dismissed from a working role can be a heartbreaking and potentially life impacting change, so when your working life is uprooted because of seemingly innocuous acts like talking on the phone during work hours, it can seem to be obvious grounds for an unfair dismissal case unless these decisions are backed up by strong Code of Conduct policies.
This happened to an Armaguard employee who was dismissed from his role for ‘sitting in his vehicle for extended periods’, and ‘speaking on his mobile phone during work hours’, which according to Armaguard caused a serious and imminent risk to Armaguard’s reputation. The employee claimed that this was an unfair dismissal case, and the Fair Work Commission agreed on the grounds that Armaguard had no clear or published policies regarding the conduct of particular employees. Armaguard was ordered to reinstate the employee and restore his lost remuneration. This case arguably caused more damage to Armaguard’s reputation than the employee ever did, mostly due to their lack of strong conduct policies dictating the proper and appropriate behaviour of its employees.
This case is just one of many examples where an employee could have been saved stress and a business could have been saved embarrassment and risk of more trouble if only proper code of conduct policies were put in place, and widely published within the company. Well put together and distributed policies are important, especially when dealing with the behaviour of employees. Having a written set of rules that is known by everyone in the business not only protects the company from inappropriate behaviour from employees and potentially lessens complaints, but also protects the company from bitter or angry employees claiming unfair dismissal when they were let go for legitimate misconduct reasons. Clear publication of these policies also helps to keep employee relationships civil and friendly, as well as keeping employees productive and on task.
The importance of having strong and appropriate code of conduct policies cannot be understated. These policies extend not just to the behaviour of individual employees, but also to their relationships with each other, and their feelings towards the company they work for. These policies protect employees from being unfairly dismissed, from inappropriate behaviour that is not reprimanded, and from unfairly treating, or being unfairly treated by the business as a whole.
Tips for Creating a Positive Code of Conduct Culture
Have balanced code of conduct policies. Having policies that are too strict can lead to the workplace culture becoming dull, uninspiring and unproductive. Lack of freedom in the workplace puts a serious stint on the culture and atmosphere, and can lead to employees not wanting to put in 100%, or not wanting to show up at all. On the other hand, policies that are too relaxed, or non-existent can have the same effect. Too much freedom can transform the workplace into an unproductive nightmare, and leaves the door open for embarrassment in the event of an unfair dismissal case being taken to the FWC. Creating policies that are balanced will help to improve important aspects of the workplace culture, and make the experience of working as part of the team a positive and enjoyable one.
Make sure the code of conduct promotes a positive atmosphere. Determining what behaviours are and aren’t appropriate in the workplace can be difficult, as everyone has different ideas of what is acceptable, so it is important that the code of conduct reflects a general idea of appropriate behaviour. Aspects of the policies like the dress code and even the allowance of internet, phone, and email use can have a dramatic impact on the atmosphere of the workplace, so finding an appropriate level to which certain behaviours are allowed is crucial.
Clearly outline what behaviour is unacceptable. Unacceptable behaviours like sexual harassment and bullying need to be clearly laid out in the code of conduct policy, and known to all employees. Don’t burry these behaviours in paragraphs of information, make sure it is well known what behaviours are not appropriate in the workplace, and what disciplinary actions will be taken alongside them.
Publish the policies and make sure that the entire workplace is aware of them. Having strong polices is all well and good, but ultimately rendered ineffective if the employees are unaware of what they are and where to find them. Not broadcasting the policies to the workplace can potentially damage employees, who can unwittingly break the code of conduct through behaviours that to them seem inconsequential, only to be subjected to warnings and potential disciplinary action. Having regular meetings about updates or changes to policies, and keeping the policies accessible on a shared drive can help eliminate problems that arise when employees are unfamiliar with the appropriate code of conduct.
Look to other companies for examples. The most successful companies in the world manage hundreds of thousands to millions of employees. Making sure workforces of this size stay motivated, productive, and most importantly accepting of a workplace culture that spans so many people is no easy task, so it stands to reason that their code of conduct policies are top notch. Follow the footsteps of companies like Google and Coca-Cola, whose code of conduct policies encompass all aspects of the workplace and it’s culture.
For more tips and information regarding anything to do with workplace investigations, check out our podcast linked below!