September 16, 2013

We Need a Policy for That?!

Middle aged business man holding his head in shock and surpriseAh common sense, a tricky term. Common sense is pretty relevant, what might be very obvious to one person, can completely escape another. This is why we have rules, guidelines and policies, but have workers gone too far under the guise of lack of common sense? We have always created policies and considered the rest taken care of by common sense, but this is getting trickier.

Did you ever get in trouble for something when you were younger, and as a defense state, “Well you never told me that I couldn’t”? Workers are starting to use this excuse more and more. “You never told me that I couldn’t”, seems to be getting used a lot in cases where companies don’t have policies for every imaginable circumstance. Which happens to be all of them. No company can create policies that cover it all.

Drinking on the Job

According to a short HuffPo video, a Portuguese court ruled that a waste removal company had to reinstate an employee it had fired for drinking on the job. The reason that the employee won his case and got his job back was because the company didn’t have any written policies about drinking on the job. The company is also being forced to pay the man 14 months of back pay. Seriously, this happened.

A lot of companies have drug and alcohol policies in place, but they are often lax or overlooked. Wine at company outings, a few beers at lunch and a martini over a business dinner are all considered fine. It’s when people cross the line that there is need to create clearly defined policies. When asked, “Would you let your employees take a drink or two on the job”, 33 percent of respondents from an Entrepreneur poll said, “No way, don’t touch the stuff until you’re off company time.” A close 31 percent said, “Absolutely. The Portuguese have it right. A tipsy worker is a happy worker.”

Social Media

Social media, the succubus of productivity and time. Social media policies at work range from encouraging use to total ban. While employers want to steer clear of infringing upon rights, companies are seeing increasing amounts of paid time being wasted online.

According to an infographic on the top 3 time wasters at work, an average employee will waste 1.24 hours on social media while on the clock. And 64 percent admit to visiting non-work related websites every day during work hours. This ends up being a lot of time wasted. Some companies monitor and even ban non-work related sites, but workers still have their own devices, such as tablets and smart phones.

Although it is impossible to monitor every minute of each employee’s day, it can help to have clear social media policies laid out. That way, when an employee is frequently shopping, chatting or tweeting on company time, documentation of the failure to comply with a written policy can be issued.

Workplace Bullying

And you thought bullying stopped at the playground. In this SHRM post, workplace bullying is defined as, “Repeated inappropriate behavior, either direct or indirect, whether verbal, physical or otherwise, conducted by one or more persons against another or others, at the place of work and/or in the course of employment.”

Not only can having a workplace bullying policy boost office morale, it can keep companies out of some serious legal trouble. This relatively new term has been coined by cases like one from the Indiana Supreme Court. A hospital employee sued a co-worker for emotional distress and assault based on his treatment of the person during work hours.  The common connotation of workplace bullying leaves a lot of room for interpretation. A Bloomberg Business Review post makes a good case for having a clear and non-ambiguous policy against workforce bullying:

“A manager may have to tell you something that hurts your feelings to help you do your job. If your boss screams at you for being late, for instance, you might think that’s horrible. A month later you might get a bad performance review, and a month after that you’re dismissed. Now, can you go to a lawyer and claim a bully for a boss? If so, every discharged employee theoretically could make that claim, and a lot of unnecessary litigation could result.”

The line that you do not cross is getting pushed back farther and farther. For all of those instances for which common sense should be a barrier, there are now expected to be policies in place. Although this sounds like a raw deal for employers, policies are relatively easy to draft, and they can save some big headaches.


Read more in HR Policies

Courtney McGann is the content creator and PR gal for Red Branch Media, an Omaha-based marketing firm. Red Branch Media was formed in 2006 as a simple consultancy. Today, the firm is a full-service B2B marketing agency, primarily focused on human resources and global workforce vendors. In the past Courtney has managed online communities, professional social outlets, marketing campaigns and event planning.