No matter what the industry, all businesses are obligated to inform staff about company policies and keep them updated on any changes. Yet, in reality, few have the time or capacity to always ensure this is enforced, potentially leaving the organisation and the employee open to fines and legal action.
Even if an employee’s actions are a direct violation of company policy, if the employer cannot demonstrate that the employee has actually seen and understood that particular rule, there’s a good chance they could be sued for unfair dismissal – as the UK-based business Liberty Living discovered to its cost.
Employee Was ‘Unaware’ Of Policy Breach
The firm, which manages student and key worker accommodation on behalf of funds, was forced to pay almost £13,000 to one of its caretakers after an employment tribunal found he was dismissed unfairly for drinking alcohol during a work break. He had been found in the bar by a colleague. The company conducted a disciplinary hearing and then sent the employee a letter of dismissal for gross misconduct because he had consumed alcohol during work time.
Yet, when the case went to an employment tribunal, the ruling found in the employee’s favour on the grounds that he was “unaware that he was in breach of Liberty’s policy by consuming alcohol at a break time.” It also ruled that the company’s policy on alcohol was “unclear and confusing.”
From a corporate perspective, the Liberty case showed the very real threat that exists when employers fail to evidence the fact that employees have seen even the most straightforward company policy. Similarly, the fact that the wording of the policy itself was singled out as being unclear and confusing highlights the need to review and, where necessary, revise badly written policies to remove jargon to bring greater clarity.
For all businesses, especially larger enterprises and public sector organisations, this can represent a significant and onerous task, with policies not only needing to be re-written with the audience in mind but also re-distributed. For this reason, the automation of policy management can serve to make it easier for organisations to proactively review their policies, as well as realise significant time and cost savings when changes are necessary.
New Areas Of Risk
A significant risk also exists if firms fail to implement and communicate a new policy that covers more widespread cultural changes. With more than 150 million recorded LinkedIn users and millions more tweets posted each day on Twitter, social media has become an everyday reality in business and an important forum for professionals.
Yet, while social media sites can open the door to a global audience, they can also leave organisations open to the risk that improper or even misguided use by employees will cause offence or even end up going viral, resulting in damaging consequences.
Whether motivated by ignorance or malevolence, the many high-profile examples of the corporate dangers presented by employees’ use of social media highlight the very real threat which abounds. For this reason, organisations that fail to implement a social media policy and demonstrate that all employees have seen and agreed to its terms may also find themselves in the midst of a publicity crisis – or even facing court proceedings.
Saving Time, Increasing Control
Other cultural and legislative changes that have occurred in recent years have also led to more instances of employee litigation and increased legislation and guidelines. Here, an effective compliance and policy management system can play an important role in helping businesses adapt to these changes, as well as protect the interests of both employers and employees.
Specifically, it can enable relevant business users such as HR teams and line managers to systematically evidence compliance, instil departmental and organisation-wide best practice and improve and sustain business controls.
In its capacity to help monitor, measure and manage the effectiveness of workplace policies and procedures, an automated policy management system will save a significant amount of time for HR teams and line managers. It can also help protect employees and employers by tracking who has read, understood and agreed to company policies.
Significantly, in the event that a high-profile tribunal sets a new precedent or sets alarm bells ringing that a firm may also be at risk of the same type of litigation, proactive organisations will evaluate whether the ruling could have applied to them and use policy management technology to make changes wherever needed.
Good policy management software will combine automation and real-time company-wide messaging capabilities with time-saving features such as the ability to send specific updates to individual groups. Crucially, it can also enable the organisation to store material in a centralised document repository, which in turn can help overcome all-too-common instances of employees referring to old documents or essential policy updates being missed.
Rather than running the risk that users read out-dated information, a centralised document repository can enable relevant stakeholders in the organisation to revisit signed policies as well as giving them access to better version control.
Significantly, other documents such as handbooks, e-learning materials and other supporting documentation can also be stored in the repository alongside policy documents. In many cases, employees and employers welcome this function as it can serve to increase ‘self-service’ access to relevant policy information.
Rather than overwhelming users with endless procedural jargon, policies are distilled to the most essential areas and a summary of changes is distributed. The messaging tool also helps the user navigate to the relevant associated documents, essentially breaking down the process overall and making it easier to manage.
Significantly, this functionality also enables the user to go back and refer to the latest version of the policy whenever they need it – saving time for the employee and the HR team, who are likely to receive fewer calls on policy issues.
From Financial Services Authority (FSA) regulations to Payment Card Industry (PCI) and Sarbanes Oxley compliance, many procedural guidelines and essential legislation is complex and can be subject to frequent changes.
For this reason, the automation of policy management and self-service aspect of policy management software is of real value because it becomes much easier for users to find and check different procedures, without always having to consult their line managers. Similarly, business managers are better equipped to address information risks and compliance.
The numerous advantages this brings makes technology particularly compelling in sectors such as the finance industry, where firms must adhere to strict procedures and legislation on how they manage financial data.
For this reason, best-practice guidelines within financial organisations might include details on the right ways to deal with information, or what corporate checks they should run on a specific organisation. In the medical sector, it could help clinicians to distinguish between national and private local policies and standards so that there is no room for error. This could include, for example, anything from hygiene guidelines to recommended dosages or the latest MRSA protocols.
At a time when the ability to meet regulatory requirements has become increasingly business-critical, robust policy management gives organisations full visibility of internal and external regulatory pressures. In addition, it also offers the important opportunity to map performance against each compliance issue and develop clear, simple-to-understand policies.
By pulling together often fragmented information around compliance and making it available to staff in a common, easily-accessible format, policy management automation can help to substantially increase user awareness and adherence. Crucially, the cultural changes that result from better information distribution, monitoring and overall governance can ensure a higher degree of protection throughout the business.