Most workplaces have similar processes, procedures and rules that are governed by well-honed human resource policies that are in accordance with the labour laws of New South Wales Australia. However, there are some workplace environments that may lean toward the absurd, establishing workplace rules that make little sense or are subjectively applied to employees. 

Employer actions that are not grounded in the labour laws or rules and regulations that are subjectively applied can lead to legal action by disgruntled or unfairly treated employees. Examples of employer actions that could lead to lawsuits filed by workers include;

  • Actions that are contrary to the labour laws including the misappropriation of;
    • Holidays
    • Sick time
    • Vacation leave
  • Superannuation accounts that are not offered to all employees in the same manner or with the same accrual rates
  • Supervisors who apply company rules to some employees and not others
  • Rating and/or evaluating employees using subjective measures
  • Blatant showings of favouritism amongst employees
  • Ignoring or allowing inappropriate use of email 
  • Attempts to control personal grooming; ie: hair length, facial hair, banning perfumes
  • Banning various types of foods due to smell or distaste
  • No personal items ie: photographs, pictures, office decorations
  • Limiting the use of a cell phone
  • Rules that limit or debase religious freedoms

The greatest danger with arbitrary and absurd workplace rules is the threat of lawsuits based on discrimination, bullying, deprivation of civil liberties and other unforeseeable issues. Any work-oriented process or rule that is applied in an inequitable manner, over various employees, can be the basis for legal action. Employers leave themselves open to being sued when their office or corporation does not have an employee manual created and overseen by a careful and well informed human resources department.

The effect of being open to various lawsuits based on the inequitable application of workplace rules and regulations are many including;

  1. Damage to employer/employee relationships
  2. Cantankerous relationships between employees who perceive others are being treated with greater leeway or receiving better benefits
  3. A lack of trust in the evaluation and promotion of co-workers
  4. An inability to bring the conflict to the attention of supervisors in an objective manner
  5. The fear of retaliation due to a lack of proper channels available to air grievances
  6. Significant financial loss due to poor productivity or, worse yet, expensive legal defence costs

However, there is a simple and smart way to alleviate problems such as these in the workplace. First, every business must have a well thought out written employee handbook that addresses workplace rules, regulations, work performance evaluations and the distribution of benefits. These rules must be applied equally to all employees. As such, the rules must be clearly written and available for business owners, managers, supervisors and employees to review, question and fully comprehend. 

The consequences of breaking a rule, or refusing to follow company policy, must be established and applied to all employees so that there is no uncertainty as to the outcome for various subjective actions and/or behaviours in the workplace. Lastly, these consequences must be enforced with regularity and equity so as not to show favouritism toward management or amongst employees, in general. 

In addition, it is smart for business owners to ask employees, on a yearly basis, to review the employee handbook. At this time, employers should require employees to sign their copy of the handbook acknowledging that they have read their workplace policies and procedures and understand them. This is also a good time to allow employees to ask questions about any rule or regulation that they might not fully understand. 

Lastly, it is an excellent time for an employer to solicit ideas for how to make the employee handbook more useful in the workplace, overall. Using employee input for the governance of a workplace can be extremely beneficial to the moral and trust the employee’s place in their employer. 

Employers who maintain a well-written employee handbook that clearly outlines the ordinary and expected workplace policies and procedures are less likely to find their rules defined as absurd or arbitrary. The singular act of having a well-informed human resources department that has the necessary authority to equitably enforce the rules of the workplace will directly affect a company’s level of morale, trust, performance and profits. 

If you find yourself in need of assistance with this or any other legal issue, please contact the law offices of Owen Hodge Lawyers. At Owen Hodge, we are always happy to assist clients in understanding the full ramifications of any and all of your legal needs. Please feel free to call us at your earliest convenience to schedule a consultation at 1800 770 780.