How smart businesses build policies from the ground up

When formulating policies, listen to your staff – they know what works and what doesn't

How smart businesses build policies from the ground up

New Zealand has moved to Alert Level 1 in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, signalling its success in containing the new coronavirus.

After spending more than two weeks without any new cases being reported, the country has begun easing nearly all restrictions on social and economic activities.

Borders will remain shut to foreigners for now, but movement within the country will give citizens some degree of normalcy. Workplaces across all sectors may also safely reopen, but social distancing measures will still be encouraged.

“While we’re in a safer, stronger position, there’s still no easy path back to pre-COVID life, but the determination and focus we have had on our health response will now be vested in our economic rebuild,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a news conference.

READ MORE: COVID-19: Can your staff refuse to return to work?

Life after lockdown: how to ensure health and safety at work
With businesses reopening, how can employers ensure staff members follow health and safety guidelines rigorously?

It starts with getting employees involved in policy formulation, advises John Rooney, employment law expert at Simpson Grierson.

“Employers should engage with staff when creating their own guidelines for the workplace,” Rooney tells HRD. “They will know what works and what doesn’t, and what they feel puts them at risk.” 

“If you engage with staff early in the process, they will feel a sense of ownership over those guidelines and have a proper understanding of why they are there,” he says.

Another important step: communicating the workplace guidelines clearly.

“Make sure they are easy to understand and follow,” he says. “They should also be easy for staff to find copies of. If any changes are made, let staff know then update the guidelines as required.”

One challenge to keeping workers updated on safety and health protocols – especially in the rapidly evolving scenario of a pandemic – is when factors like government guidelines frequently change.

“Ensure you have a process to follow whenever changes need to be made and staff need to be alerted to those changes,” Rooney says.

READ MORE: COVID-19: 6 apps to monitor employee health

In the early weeks of the COVID-19 crisis, for example, a number of HR software makers issued updates and add-ons that enabled leaders to monitor the health and safety of a distributed or remote workforce, whether through self-reporting, pulse surveys or A.I. assistants.

“Further to communicating with staff, inviting feedback from them can be invaluable,” Rooney says. It opens up an avenue for everyone to share fresh ideas and enhance existing ones.

“Give opportunities for staff to speak up about what aspects of the workplace guidelines are working and effective, and what aspects need work. This will mean any unrealistic or unhelpful guidelines can be identified and amended,” he says.

But employers should also beware of possible lapses among employees – and to be ready with penalties for those who do not comply with safety regulations.

“If, despite thorough staff engagement and communication, the workplace guidelines aren’t being followed, it may be appropriate to put some disciplinary measures in place. These should be applied consistently,” Rooney says.

“Workers have a duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 to comply with reasonable health and safety instructions from their employers,” he says.

“Workers also have a duty under the HSWA to take reasonable care for their own health and safety and the health and safety of others. If the failure to follow guidelines amounts to a breach of these duties, that may be grounds for starting disciplinary action on the grounds of health and safety.”

Lessons from the lockdown
As New Zealand gradually returns to life before the pandemic, employers can learn from how work was carried out during the lockdown in order to put in place new policies, Rooney advises.

“Employers can take this opportunity to assess the health and safety policies that they currently have in place, and whether those allow them to efficiently deal with a crisis like this in the future,” he says. 

“Issues such as keeping staff safe when working from home, or when they are at risk of exposure to an illness, should be considered by all employers when reviewing their health and safety policies.”

Stay safe, stay up to date, stay compliant and receive essential legal insights. Join us at HRD’s Employment Law Masterclass on 17 and 18 June.

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