Numerous employers have lost tribunal claims simply because they couldn’t prove an employee know about their policies and procedures. But with one easy exercise you can stay on the right side of the law. What is it?
I didn’t know that, loser!
If an employee claims that they didn’t know about a particular workplace rule, policy or procedure, and you can’t prove otherwise at the tribunal, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to defend their accusation. This oversight could be expensive. So to avoid this potential pitfall, you could introduce a short annual, half yearly or quarterly exercise that will ensure you staff are adequately clued up.
How does it work?
Apart from covering your back, this process can save management time – this is often wasted because an employee doesn’t know something. For example, unless they’re clear on what sort of behaviour will fast track them into disciplinary proceedings or qualify as gross misconduct (you can’t assume this is obvious), you may end up dealing with perfectly avoidable hearings. Equally, you could get bogged down with trivial complaints because someone doesn’t know the difference between a grievance and a grumble.
Solving the problem
The easiest solution is to set aside time each year, during working hours, for staff to read all your policies and procedures. This short exercise:
1. Refreshes their memory on your existing workplace rules.
2. Familiarises them with any new policies, procedures, updates or alterations that you’ve made, e.g. due to a change in the law.
3. Helps to prevent them later alleging that they didn’t know something.
Get the paperwork in order
Once they’ve done this ask them to sign and date an employee declaration form (see The next step). This document confirms the exact date they last read your policies and procedures and that they fully understand the contents (along with any changes made).
Tip 1. It should be countersigned and dated by the employee’s line manager and then retained on their personnel file. If necessary, it can be used as evidence in the future, e.g. at any disciplinary proceedings brought against the employee.
Tip 2. Don’t throw any previous declarations away unless you have to. If an employee has confirmed that they’ve read your policies on more than one occasion, you’ll be in a stronger position.
Tip 3. Don’t exclude any employees who are on maternity leave, holiday or away through sickness absence. Also, make sure that these employees who work nights, from home or on a part-time basis, don’t slip through the net.
Tip 4. It’s up to you how often you carry out this exercise but, at the very least, it should be conducted annually; much will depend on how often you update your rules and/or introduce new ones. However, it’s important to remember that this needs to be an ongoing process, i.e once you start it, don’t stop. If you do, the tribunal could conclude an employee wasn’t told about something.
Each year, set aside time for every employee to read through your policies and procedures; then ask them to sign a declaration which confirms that they understand your rules. Not only will this refresh their memory and familiarise them with any changes, it gives you concrete evidence if you ever need it.
“Tips & Advice” 15.9.2011