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Preparing To Use Your Policies

SHAMEELA WINSTON
Last week we looked at some of the basic clauses that are expected to be covered in a typical employment policy document.

Of course there will be other provisions that you could include, depending on your specific working environment, culture, and business needs. As long as your policies have not excluded any of the prescriptions in the Employment Act, and as long as your policies do not fall below the limits specified in the Employment Act, you are free to incorporate other provisions according to your appetite for adherence to industry best practice, your budget and your operating realities.  You are free for instance, to allow for alternative working arrangements such as the compressed working week, where the employee could work in the required 40 hours from Monday to Thursday, taking Friday off, or, the flexi-time option, where the 40 hours are worked in at staggered intervals during the week. You see how your policies would embody both the employment law principle of a 40 hour week, while allowing you to offer scope for work-life balance in allowing the employee to work the times that are most convenient for him/her.

What I wanted to emphasize is that the policies should have minimal room for misunderstanding, because then that would defeat the purpose. Remember we previously talked about how policies are meant to bring consistency, equity and harmony in how employer and employee relate? So it is as important to make sure we all know how to interpret the policies as it is to ensure compliance to law and adherence to best practice.

To enhance clarity of interpretation there should be a statement telling the users of the employment policy document whose interpretation will be regarded as final in the event of ambiguity. Suppose I worked in some overtime and I want to claim my compensation, and my supervisor says I’m not eligible for overtime because of the details he or she would advance. I query that because nowhere in my employment contracting discussions was there any mention of eligibility for overtime. I was just told that there is overtime that could be compensated with time off or pay, with no further comment on whether one has to be qualified as eligible or not. Such a dispute could be escalated through the authority levels until the executive office, where his or her interpretation would be final.

There should also be definitions section that details to readers to what terms included in the document mean. For instance, when we talk about overtime in the document, what do we mean? If I came in voluntarily on the weekend to finish off something, or if I did some work at home after hours to progress work-related projects, would that be recognized as overtime? Or is it only when the supervisor specifically utters the words ‘overtime’ that we become eligible for payment?

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And another issue. What is a day? When we talk about 5 days in the document, what is a day? Are we talking about a working day, or a calendar day? It seems such a small and minor detail that common sense can clarify, but in the event of a dispute, where you are bringing a disciplinary charge against me for example, saying I did not perform something within a set number of days and I argue that my understanding of day is not aligned to yours, you would see that we each have varied interpretations and nothing should be left to common sense.

One other area of potential dispute is the difference between the employment contract and the employment policy document, when for instance, we find that certain employees were appointed on terms and conditions that are different from what obtains in the employment policy document. It is important to state in the preamble of the policy document what happens in such instances. Will the individual employment contract prevail or will the institutional policy document? The answer is very obvious to the experienced practitioners, but because we say that the employment policy document is read with the employment contract, to encounter situations where an employment contract varies with the policy document may be confusing to those new in the field. So make sure this is covered.  Is this next point different from what we have been discussing about interpretation? Maybe it is. Others may say it’s the same issue. Talking about the scope of application. The policy must clearly stipulate who it caters for, whether it is for all staff, including the casuals, temporary, fixed term contract and permanent staff, or it is only for certain categories of staff. It is very discouraging for someone, for instance an intern on attachment to be required to sit through the orientation and induction presentation, hear all about what the organization has to offer, sign off on his attendance and understanding of the policies, and then be told that he or she is exempt from the benefits because he or she is not employed there, but will be held to the ICT policy and the code of conduct.

Finally we need to make the point that the policy document, while final and in force, remains a dynamic instrument that is subject to review and revision every so often. You will define the ‘every so often’ for yourselves, but outline in the paragraph what the process to initiate a review and revision would look like. Do you have a staff consultation platform that would raise the issue, or would a letter from a staff member to the Managing Director suffice, or what? Let people know.



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