Does every workplace need a code of conduct?

Short answer: Absolutely.

A “Code of Conduct” describes the expectations that an organisation has of their people, in both how they carry out their work and how they relate to each other. It is sometimes known as a “Code of Conduct & Ethics” or an “Appropriate Workplace Conduct” policy.

Under Australian work, health and safety (WHS) laws, employers have a duty to proactively mitigate any physical or mental risk to health and safety in the workplace, such as workplace bullying, sexual harassment, violence or aggression.

A code of conduct is an important component of an organisation’s WHS policy which reflects the organisation’s core values, helps shape the workplace culture, and supports the employer to meet their WHS obligations. It should include clear rules and guidance around respect and responsibility in the workplace, and information on the risks associated with inappropriate workplace conduct.

"Workplace sexual harassment is prevalent and pervasive: it occurs in every industry, in every location and at every level, in Australian workplaces."

- 2018 National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces / Australian Human Rights Commission

With news reports of workplace sexual harassment allegations now appearing regularly in the media, the need for every workplace to have a code of conduct has never been more pertinent. Regular refresher trainings and other opportunities to reinforce the code of conduct are equally important for ensuring that all managers and employees understand the organisational values, expectations and rules. Don’t presume that every member of your workforce knows, remembers or understands your code of conduct.

In January 2021, Safe Work Australia issued new guidance materials on preventing workplace sexual harassment, violence, aggression and domestic violence. These guidance materials support employers to meet their WHS duties with practical steps to manage the risks of sexual, violence and aggression in the workplace, including gendered violence, as well as information on how to provide support and a safe environment for workers affected by domestic and family violence.

Additionally, in March 2021, the Victorian Government announced a new taskforce to develop reforms that will prevent and better respond to workplace sexual harassment. This will include starting consultation on a mandatory incident notification scheme that would require employers to notify WorkSafe of workplace sexual harassment.

It is encouraging to see the emergence of new WHS resources and initiatives to help employers meet their obligations in preventing and responding to workplace sexual harassment. Please be advised, however, that such resources and initiatives do not replace the need for every organisation to have a code of conduct that is tailored your unique workplace culture. Ultimately, it is the tailored code of conduct that allows employers to uphold and enforce the organisation’s standards around appropriate workplace conduct.

WorkPlacePLUS can support you in a number of ways, for example:

- Reviewing your workplace culture

- Developing or reviewing your code of conduct

- Developing or reviewing your suite of WHS policies

- Facilitating training and development programs for your managers and teams

- Providing a thorough independent workplace investigation of harassment allegations

For more information, please contact us today.

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