Employment contracts, codes of conduct and internal policy documents are one way employers can help ensure employees will be good custodians of a business’ brand.

But Australian Workplace Strategies Managing Director Jim Parke says employers should get help from a skilled professional when revising standard contracts or codes of conduct, or preparing new documents.

Mr Parke says good employment contracts and codes of conduct should take into account an employee’s broader rights and obligations and be provided in an environment of informed consent.

“An employment contract that obligates an employee to comply with certain codes of conduct must take into account employees’ broader rights and obligations as private citizens and community members,” Mr Parke says.

“An employment contract which obligates an employee to follow the law or a particular law could be understandably breached when an employee is found guilty of a criminal charge but less clear-cut breaches of contract, policies or codes of conduct are a grey area.

“Some employers rely on contracts that commit employees to complying with what are effectively ‘living documents’ – continually or occasionally updating codes of conduct – or future policies.

“Expecting an employee to comply with future policies or code of conduct updates can be fraught with danger and should be approached with caution.

“Employers should seek advice about how to legally and reasonably roll out a new policy or standard.”

Informed consent should be obtained with reasonable notice

A Queensland sawmill worker won a landmark privacy case last month after the full bench of the federal Fair Work Commission ruled that his employer had not given sufficient notification that it wanted to collect sensitive information or allowed a process of informed consent when it introduced mandatory fingerprint scanning policy at his workplace.

Mr Parke says obtaining informed consent with sufficient notification is vital to the execution of a new policy.

“An employer that rolls out a new policy over an IT system with no notice or advice to employees by forcing workers to click ‘OK’ to the change by logging into their computers might be found to have behaved unreasonably,” Mr Parke warns.

“A new policy or update that an employer wants employees to consent to is much more likely to be found to have been introduced with sufficient notification and informed consent if there is a long lead time for its introduction.

“An employer could share the document with staff over email, over an intranet and at employee information sessions, and have employees sign and return the documents by a future date set at a reasonable time in the future.”

About Australian Workplace Strategies

Australian Workplace Strategies is a specialised human resources (HR) and industrial relations (IR) consultancy that is expert in supporting small and medium-sized enterprises.

A subsidiary of the Parke Corporation professional services group, AWS was founded in 1994 by Lieutenant Colonel Gerard Nelson after he served as a director of KPMG Peat Marwick’s labour market strategy group.

AWS formed an alliance with Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu the following year and has been engaged by a variety of high-profile clients in its 25-year history, including Nike, Stanley Black & Decker, Le Pine Funerals, government authorities and local councils.

The national consultancy formed an alliance with Parke Lawyers in 2007 and became a Parke Corporation business in 2015. Its corporate office is in Collins Street, Melbourne, with its advisers able to meet with clients in any Australian capital city.