Employee Handbook – The purpose of formal company policies and procedures

Employee Handbook – The purpose of formal company policies and procedures

The employment relationship is reciprocal, where employers hire employees to provide labour or render services that contribute to the business objectives. Employees offer their labour in return for remuneration. When parties conclude employment contracts, standard conditions of service are incorporated. The purpose of an employee handbook is to let employees know what is required from them and to assist employers in a dispute.

A policy is a document that establishes rules and guidelines for an organisation. These are documents which describe the steps that are to be taken to implement policies. The practical implementation of policies is set out in “procedures”.

The Employee Handbook is essential in regulating the working relationship between the employer and employee and serves as “house rules”. It is a valuable communication tool that provides employees with clear advice, so it is likely to create a culture where issues are dealt with fairly and consistently.

What is the purpose of Formal Company Rules and Regulations?

Disciplined behaviour is essential both for achieving the employer’s objectives and for the safety and fair treatment of the employees. It is quintessential in maintaining appropriate discipline and advises employees on what constitutes misconduct, and the procedure followed when dealing with misconduct. 

A disciplinary code and procedure should be based on the following principles:

  • Disciplinary action should be corrective as opposed to punitive, the aim being to change the behaviour of employees who have indulged in undesirable activities so that such employees adhere willingly through greater acceptance and understanding of standards of conduct and performance.
  • Punitive action should only be taken when prior corrective action has proved ineffectual or when an offence is so severe that the relationship of trust between the parties is destroyed.
  • As far as is practicable, similar offences committed in similar circumstances should be treated equally through similar disciplinary action subject to aggravating or mitigating circumstances.

Before taking disciplinary action, the following must be determined.

  • Is there a rule? (e.g. You may not come to work late)
  • Is the rule reasonable?
  • Does the employee know the rule, or could he reasonably be expected to have been aware of the rule or standard; 
  • Does the employee know what can happen to him if he breaks the rule? (e.g. He can be dismissed)
  • What action was taken when he or another person broke the rule in the past?

By referring to the Employee Handbook, all parties in the employment relationship will know what is expected of them, what the rule is and what the consequences of breaking it are. This will also ensure that the rule is consistently applied within the workplace. 

Case Study

In the case of Wentink v Total South Africa (ARB) it was argued that although the applicant initially denied that he had been issued with a disciplinary code he had subsequently acknowledged that he had used the blue Human Resource manual which contained the disciplinary code under cross-examination. 

From the above reason stated, it was argued that the applicant was aware and or reasonably should be aware of the company rules and policies as contained in the handbook due to his previous use thereof, regarding the receiving of gifts and the requirement to disclose any such gifts to management. 

Therefore, he should not have accepted the gift from IGS without disclosing it. This case shows how clear work rules contained in a written medium can help to support disciplinary action when an employee denies having knowledge of the specific rule.

With an Employee handbook in place, the aim is to decrease opportunities for misbehaviour in the first place by providing employees with the information needed to avoid situations where employees claim they were unaware of the rule or policy.

Another significant benefit for employers implementing an employee handbook and clear work rules is they would avoid charges of unlawful discrimination. It is also recommended that such a handbook be issued and made easily available to all employees and that a register be kept indicating that the employee is aware of the handbook and acknowledges its contents.

Without formal policies and procedures, your organisation may not be reaching its potential. Developing and enforcing policies that reflect your workplace’s values makes it a better environment for all employees and employers.

These basic guidelines provide a practical framework for employers and organisations to follow. Should you require further assistance, contact Invictus on 0861 737 263 for any queries/assistance regarding outlining company policies and the employee’s handbook.

Should you require further assistance, contact Invictus on 0861 737 263 for any queries/assistance