Legal awareness of the employees is a must!

At the initiative of Australian lawyer Paul Brennan, few years ago February 13th was declared Employees Legal Awareness Day. The renowned Australian lawyer wanted to encourage companies to start a dialogue with their employees on workplace policies in a positive, peaceful way. The purpose of Employees Legal Awareness Day is twofold: to emphasize the importance of knowing the legal basis in the workplace for employees and SMEs, and to reduce the risk associated with legal issues. According to him, all employees should know the company’s code of ethics, and they should also each have their own copy. The code should clearly and comprehensibly state the rights and obligations of employees, the system of remuneration and possible penalties for breaches of the rules, it should also contain a declaration of conflict of interest and a confidentiality agreement.

Why is it important for a worker to know the basic information concerning his job and well-being? If the employee knows his/her rights and obligations in more detail, he/she will also find it easier to protect their health, safety, and well-being at work. Of course, this does not mean that the employer is not then responsible for a fair and healthy work environment and that they do not have to ensure that their employees have access to important health and safety information. By educating the employees about the code of ethics, the employer helps them to take responsibility for their actions, become more aware of their legal rights and obligations, and be able to participate more actively in improving working conditions, as they can more easily and effectively express concerns regarding health, safety, and well-being at work.

It would be advisable for the company to execute a short course on the code of ethics and workplace policies for all new employees, and it would also be a good idea to devote a few hours once a year to refresh employees’ knowledge, while highlighting potential violations or problems that they perceive and together with the company’s management find the best solution to eliminate the problems and thus contribute to better working conditions.

In the course for all new employees, employers should ensure the introduction to work and company policy. The employee should also know who his/her HR manager is, insofar as the company has one; however, if the company does not have a human resources department, the employee should be aware of who is the person they are in contact with regarding any procedures in the company’s policy. As already mentioned, at the time of employment, the employer should provide the employee with a code of ethics or a guide, which should describe in detail the following guidelines: health and safety, absence from work, right to leave and privacy, use of mobile phone and e-mail, disciplinary proceedings, information, which the employee is required to present to the company, office policy, equal opportunities policy, remuneration and complaint procedures. Employees should also be able to contact their HR or supervisor if they have any questions related to the job.

In an exclusive statement for WELLy, Mr. Brennan spoke about where his idea for Employees Legal Awareness Day came from and how his idea is being implemented around the world:
“My experience in private practice and as a General Legal Counsel is that Policies and Procedures are extremely important but often unbearably long and incredibly dull. There is a certain satisfaction in drafting a considered policy document and keeping it up to date. But if employees do not read it until a problem arises then they may not be aware of the avoidable legal pitfalls that can cause significant loss to their employer before it is too late.

In about 2007, I founded Employees Legal Awareness Day. Since then, I have made legal presentations written articles such as Ten Legal Things That your Employees Need To Know (https://bit.ly/3qi4bIw) and devised the 3 Minute “Are you legally savvy” Quiz (https://bit.ly/2ZfnO81) to promote the advantages of keeping employees legally savvy. 

One US company proposed three tips to make the day a hit, including a Trivia Night (https://bit.ly/3rN5bEO). However, I accept that it could be a long night for employees unless the prizes were exceptionally expensive.

In the last decade, policy documents appear to have substantially increased in length while remaining unappealing to any normal employee.  Whereas interest in Employees Legal Awareness Day appears to have increased, or so the #EmployeeLegalAwarenessDay (https://bit.ly/2ZbkRVY) on Twitter would suggest.

I challenge all those drafting Policy and Procedure documents to hold the length at the 2021 level or even consider setting a ten-year reduction target.”