Position descriptions, policies and procedures – do they still matter?

by External17 Feb 2016
by Alan McDonald, Managing Director of McDonald Murholme

With the ever changing environment of a modern workplace, there is an increased need for clear and concise HR policies and procedures.

Employers need to ensure all employees are aware of their role and accompanying responsibilities in the workplace to facilitate a smooth running and productive environment.

A key factor to these procedures is ensuring that each employee has a clear position description and their tasks are clearly communicated to them from the commencement of their employment.

Why are position descriptions so important?

A position description is vital to the productivity of an employee as it ensures the employee knows what is expected of them and what their responsibilities are. Position descriptions are also fundamental in that they provide key criteria that an employee can expect to be evaluated on.

Without a clear position description being agreed upon by an employer and an employee, confusion and disagreements can arise if performance management was to occur.

What happens if there is a change in position?

With the demands of a developing workplace, many positions are known to change to accommodate the growing needs of a business. It is integral to ensure that should an employee’s role or responsibilities change, their position description is amended as well.

Why are HR policies and procedures so important?

HR policies and procedures allow companies to be consistent with their values whilst following their legal obligations as an employer.

Often, many workplaces encounter issues where staff were unaware of a particular policy that they have breached, with lack of communication being a common excuse.

It is imperative that workplaces have accessible and well-communicated HR policies and procedures which allow employers to properly manage staff conduct. These policies do not need to be particularly complex or numerous – merely effectively communicated and adhered to. 

A comprehensive employee induction and regular training sessions on HR policies and procedures minimise potential misconduct within the workplace.

Where the policies reflect the legal requirements placed upon the employer by the Fair Work Act 2009 (cth), they ensure that both the employee and employer comply.

Otherwise, there is a risk that the employee can hold the employer to ransom – where the employer has failed to comply with the Act.

Which key policies are the most important?

HR policies and procedures encourage employers to operate efficiently and effectively.
They facilitate a cohesive workplace that supports consistent treatment of staff, fairness and transparency.

The following areas are most common for companies to focus their policies and procedures on:
  • Code of conduct;
  • Confidentiality;
  • Conflict of interest;
  • Working conditions and
  • Leave requirements.
Such policies and procedures also allow management to make decisions that are consistent, uniform and predictable.
If an employee of your company breaches a company policy, we recommend seeking legal advice to ensure you follow your legal obligation as an employer.


  • by Bernie ALTHOFER EGL I ASSESSMENTS PTY LTD 14/03/2016 12:27:06 PM

    The headline indicated "Nobody Told Me" and many people may have assumed that this only applied to the CEO or to HR. Whilst some organisations have changed the way position/job descriptions etc are structured, it does appear that there is an increased need to not only have these in place, but to ensure their currency.

    As an increased number of situations evolve that result in litigation, it also appears that an increased number of individuals argue that their position description and related organisational policies and procedures were non-existent, not current or not explained to them. It some cases, organisations place an expectation on individuals to seek out the relevant policies and procedures. In my experience, particularly when it comes to matters of bullying, some individuals are not able to access a current position/job description, produce outdated policies and procedures, and find themselves on the backfoot because of this. In other cases, individuals may try and justify their behaviour, conduct, actions or decision making based on outdated policies and procedures.

    Whilst there may be an expectation or belief that HR needs to do more, in my experience their workload increases when line managers or individuals do not comply with organisational policies and procedures, or act on outdated policies etc. When it comes to performance management and appraisals, some individuals do not reference their job/position description, and in some cases, the process become a 'tick and flick approach'. When individuals are required to change behaviour, the level of risk exposure increases accordingly to the variances from the policy and procedure.

    Rightly, the article invokes the need for training. All too often I have encountered individuals who have attended an induction or orientation process, only to leave with a 'brush stroke' coverage that they soon forget due to the immediacy of work. In some cases, I have encountered situations where new employees have been provided with education and induction packages that are considerably out of date e.g. contact persons referenced have left the work location, or procedures have changed significantly.

    As litigation increases and a broader range of internal organisational policies and procedures are accessed, there is an increased onus on organisations and their employees and workers at all levels to maintain currency of knowledge. In addition, policies and procedures have to be current, and there needs to be a system or process in place to ensure currency of procedure.

    It does appear that whilst the workload might appear to be unnecessary or time consuming, it does appear that when it comes to litigation, well documented position/job description, policies and procedures, and ongoing training might mitigate any losses.

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