Home' Teacher : November 2010 Contents LEADERSHIP 49
occupational health and safety (OHS)
anti-discrimination and equal employ-
ment opportunity, and
performance management and staff devel-
Policies ought to be implemented and
applied consistently and fairly throughout
There are many benefits to having well-
written workplace policies. Aside from often
helping a school to defend itself against an
unfair dismissal claim, OHS prosecution or
vicarious liability claim, policies can dem-
onstrate that the school is being operated
in an efficient and businesslike manner.
Furthermore, they can foster stability and
ensure uniformity and consistency in deci-
sion-making and operational procedures.
A good workplace policy will be explicit.
It will also clearly state to whom the policy
applies. Policies should be written in plain
English so they are easily understood by staff.
Workplaces employing staff with first lan-
guages other than English must ensure that
polices are translated for these employees.
A policy should also give the school dis-
cretion in the policy's implementation and
the basis of that discretion should be stated
as part of the policy.
A policy should also help staff to under-
stand how they can comply with the policy
and what to do if they can not comply.
Thus, a good policy should:
set out the aim of the policy
explain why the policy was developed
identify to whom the policy applies
set out what is acceptable and unaccept-
able behaviou r
set out the consequences of a failure to
comply with the policy, and
state the date on which the policy was
developed or updated.
Policies cannot be effective unless they are
provided, and explained, to all existing and
new staff members. This includes casual,
part-time and full-time staff members,
those on maternity leave and any independ-
ent contractors. Schools should explain how
to comply with the policies and the implica-
tions of not complying.
Furthermore, when changes are made to
policies, it's important that these are clearly
and openly communicated to staff. Changes
that are not communicated to staff may be
of no effect.
Courts and tribunals are unlikely to
uphold dismissals for breach of workplace
policies if the policies have not been prop-
erly communicated to staff or have not been
Understanding the policy
The case in the former Australian Industrial
Relations Commission (AIRC) of Agn ew &
Ors v Nationwide Ne ws Ltd highlighted
the importance of ensuring that employees
understand workplace policies and that any
changes made to a policy are communicated
The AIRC in Agnew & Ors v Nation-
wide Ne ws ordered the reinstatement of
four employees after finding they had mis-
understood their company's drug and alco -
hol policy and, specifically, the penalties
associated with their conduct. The employ-
ees had defied their company's policy, which
prohibited the drinking of alcohol during
lunchbreaks. An earlier version of the policy
had stated that employees who breached the
policy would be subject to 'normal' com-
pany disciplinary procedures. Three of the
four employees, however, thought that a
lesser penalty than dismissal would apply
to their conduct. The AIRC found their dis-
missal was harsh in the circumstances.
Enforcement of policies and
Disciplinary policies must comply with both
the requirements of the relevant legislation
and any disciplinary provisions contained
in applicable awards or agreements. The
grounds justifying discipline should be clear.
The use of warnings should be explained.
It's also important that the policy describes
when summary dismissal is warranted.
It's important that policies are applied
consistently throughout the school. If the
implementation of the policy is inconsist-
ent, there's a greater chance that a staff
member dismissed for breach of that policy
could successfully claim he or she has been
unfairly dismissed. Thus, any breaches of
policy should be dealt with promptly and
according to the procedure set out in the
In Australian Workers' Union, Tasmania
Branch v Pasminco Hobart Smelter (Admin -
istrator Appointed), the Tasmanian Indus-
trial Relations Commission recommended
that a final warning issued to a worker who
breached an OHS policy on protective cloth-
ing be withdrawn because the company had
applied the policy inconsistently.
The employee was issued with a final
warning the day after being war ned three
times to button the collar of his protective
clothing. The company stated that its rea-
sons for proceeding straight to a final warn-
ing were that, as an experienced operator,
the employee should have complied with
the OHS policy. The employee, however,
claimed he was too hot to button up his
shirt and other persons had not complied
with the policy on several other occasions.
Also, after issuing the warning, the com-
pany permitted overseas visitors into the
same area without the required protective
Commissioner Tim Abey held that the
company's decision to immediately issue a
final warning was unfair in light of the fact
that other people were permitted into the
area without the recommended personal
Policies must be seen to be applied con-
Zero tolerance policies
Although an employer may have a policy
regarding certain matters, for example, the
use of email or dress codes, an employee's
failure to comply may not warrant summary
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