What Happens Outside Work Affects Work


What Happens Outside Work Affects Work

Two recent high-profile cases may have you confused as a Small Business owner about what you can and cannot ask employees to do or not do outside of work hours. 

In one case the (social media) conduct of an employee led to dismissal and general outrage and criticism of the employer. In the other case, the out of hours conduct and hangover (alleged excessive drinking) that led to subsequent dismissal, has been upheld by Fair Work and raised barely a ripple of angst.

What the heck is happening?

Both businesses have applied expectations of how employees conduct themselves at work. That’s reasonable, isn’t it?

Of course it is, providing that those expectations are:

  • Clearly stated and documented.
  • Clearly relevant to the business.

As an employer, you have the right to reasonable management direction and to expect your employees to perform their duties to the best of their ability. You have the right to expect a certain standard of behaviour from your employees.

As with all rights, it also matters how you express them and put them into practice.

This is particularly true in the world of employment where there are so many different pieces of legislation that apply. The Fair Work Act is quite broad, and there are also standards that are outlined under Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) legislation (regarding prevention of bullying) as well as Anti Discrimination legislation to name only a couple.

Many business owners, including yourself, may be scratching their heads wondering what these two examples mean for you.

One business has a clear set of policies and a link to customer/passenger OH&S to support their stance. That business also followed a robust process of standing the employee down on pay, investigating and then deciding to terminate employment.

These are the core ingredients for successfully holding employees accountable for their out of hours conduct:

  • Clear documented process.
  • Clear relevance to business activity.
  • Direct impact on the customer.

Many businesses have employees who are driving vehicles containing customers, or who use heavy machinery, or who use complex processes to manufacture delicate items or who use potentially hazardous materials in their processes. In all cases, occupational health and safety is a driver to require a zero-blood alcohol reading (please note, that the issue of drug and alcohol policy, testing and enforcement is a complete topic on its own).

As a Small Business owner, you have worked hard to set up and build your business to the level that it is at. You have juggled money, endured stress, grown a customer base and have built a reputation and presence in your market. The conduct of your employees every day and in every interaction can help or hinder each and every one of these things you have worked hard to build.

The way that your employees perform and conduct themselves is a direct representation of you and your business.

Therefore, it’s important that you should be able to describe this and document it. Clearly describe what is expected and explain why that is essential to the business. Include potential consequences if the standard is not met.

These important factors should be included in your training and induction process. If it’s expected, then you have the responsibility to ensure that your staff know what is expected.

What are the three key lessons for your Small Business?

1. Employers have rules and should have rules.

These must be clear, well communicated and based on having:

2. Robust and objective reasons; these must exist to support those rules and policies.

3. A clear process that is fair and reasonable; this must always be followed.

The final word is that if it’s relevant and important to your business, then you need to be able to describe it and have it embedded in your ways of working and systems.

Not every business has or needs a large set of policies and procedures. Every business, however, does need clarity and alignment on standards of behaviour that are acceptable and standards of performance that are required.

It can often be easier and faster to bring in a specialist to facilitate conversations with key people to capture these expectations and to help embed these in the everyday working ways of your team.

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