Tuesday, May 31, 2005

357 Words of Wisdom

Workplace Policies

When we think of policies, we usually think of those wonderful-sounding motherhood statements political parties tend to release when an election is coming up. But believe it or not, policy documents are very good risk management tools in the workplace.

Employers, managers and even employees have duties to keep the workplace safe. These duties arise from numerous Acts of Parliament, the most important in New South Wales of which is the Occupational Health & Safety Act.

The OH&S Act is administered and enforced by WorkCover NSW. WorkCover inspectors have extensive powers to search and inspect premises and records of workplaces across New South Wales and in all industries. Apart from educating employers about their responsibilities, WorkCover inspectors also act as ‘informants’ in prosecutions carried out either in the Chief Industrial Magistrate’s Court (part of the Local Court system) or for more serious offences in the Industrial Relations Commission of NSW.

When defending a WorkCover prosecution or when seeking a lighter penalty, it is useful to be able to show the Court or Commission that your workplace has policies in place to avoid and/or minimise certain risks. You also should be able to show records of your workers and managers being trained in these policies and procedures. Further, you should show that your policies and procedures were developed in consultation with employees, managers and experts.

The type of policies and the level of procedural detail in each policy will vary depending on the nature of your workplace and industry. For instance, a small trucking company will generally not require an extremely detailed e-mail policy compared to, say, a software developer or a large graphic arts studio.

Speaking of e-mail policies, the Carr Government has introduced a Bill into the NSW Parliament which regulates the extent to which employers can snoop on the e-mail and internet usage of their employees. The legislation is designed to protect employee privacy, and provides guidelines and procedures for employers wishing to spy on their workers. Employers who already have an e-mail and internet policy in place may be exempt from the operation and sanctions of the Bill should it be passed.

(Words of Wisdom is a daily addition to the Sydney Lawyers Blog and written by Irfan Yusuf, Principal Solicitor of Sydney Lawyers. The column is for information purposes only, and is not intended nor is it to be used as a substitute for independent legal advice. Not all things in life are free.)

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