Workplace Policies: Dictator or Protector

Delta Winds cover 2002Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College


Workplace Policies: Dictator or Protector

Steven Price

Everywhere you go today there are rules to follow. If you want to drive a car, go to the movies, use the library, or simply walk down the street, a rule or law must be adhered to. Even in the workplace there are rules, generally referred to as policies. Are policies in place to prevent employees from enjoying their work or to protect the employer from litigation? While most people readily accept the fact that there are rules and regulations within their workplace, do they really know what purpose policies serve?

Often employees feel that the policies of their company are in place to give the boss some leverage over them or to give the boss a reason to "headhunt." However, most of the time policies and rules are there to protect both the employee and the employer.

In the law enforcement profession, rules and policies are set forth by both the employer and the justice system. In some cases the employer makes policy in response to a particular court decision. For instance, police pursuits are handled today in response to civil suits that have been filed because innocent people have been injured during pursuits of criminals. I've heard some officers complain that these decisions prevent them from doing their job of chasing and catching bad guys, but in reality the decisions are there to protect not only the citizens but also the officers. The policy of pursuing violators only when certain criteria are met helps prevent innocent people from being injured, thereby protecting the officer from civil litigation, if the policy is adhered to.

A policy that requires employees to wear seat belts when operating a company's vehicle not only protects the employer from damages incurred by the employee when he is involved in a collision, but it also protects the employee. An employee who is not wearing a seat belt during a collision can only receive damages for injuries less the percentage deemed his own cause for not wearing the seat belt. Also, consider the lost work time that is paid through worker's compensation for the injury sustained by the employee while not wearing a seat belt in a collision. Employees tend to feel this type of policy infringes on their personal choice of whether or not to wear a seat belt. Some employees might even feel that the employer is following them around to see if they are wearing the seat belt. Don't you think that employers have more important things to do than follow their employees around? The policy is in place to insure that both the employee and employer are protected.

Consider a policy involving sexual harassment. Today this type of policy is fairly common among employers, both in public and private sectors. Is this type of policy adopted to prevent employees from enjoying themselves at work and to keep jokes among friends from happening? The federal govenment mandates such rules in most cases. In addition, the employer wants to be certain that everyone working for him has a safe, non-threatening place to work. Isn't that something we would all like to have? If some people haven't moved into the 21st century and still think it is okay to treat others with little or no respect, does it mean the rest of us have to live with it at work? By adopting and enforcing a sexual harassment policy in the workplace, the employer can protect himself from civil damages, which today can be in the millions of dollars, and it protects employees from uncomfortable behavior. If an employee chooses to act contrary to the policy, then he must suffer the consequences. However, this does not mean that the policy is in place to undermine a person's right to an opinion or to give the employer leverage to remove someone from a position. If that happens, it is most likely due to the employee's overt actions or open defiance of policy.

I have worked for the same employer for the last 18 1/2 years. During that time many policies have been adopted and changed, and not once have I seen my boss intentionally go after another employee for a policy violation. The employee did suffer the consequences of his actions, but my employer didn't seek out violations of its policies.

Policies in the workplace can be very liberal, and they can be extremely restrictive. No matter the level of policies adopted, I believe that in most cases they are there for the protection of both the employer and the employee. If one acts within the policy of the employer and becomes injured or killed, then it can be argued that the employer can be held responsible. However, if an employee acts outside the established policies of the employer and is injured or killed, then it is the employee's responsibility to show that the policy was faulty or created an unsafe condition which caused the employee to operate outside of the policy. Failing to do that, the employee must live with his error and the consequences thereof.

Without workplace policies or procedures, there would be no uniformity. Workers would be out for themselves and co-workers could be at risk of injury or death. I personally prefer to work for a company where all persons adhere to established policies. This gives me peace of mind, knowing that everyone involved in a situation or task will use proven procedures. The risk of injury or death goes down. But if there is an injury or death, I can feel secure that my employer's policies and guidelines will be there to protect me from future litigation.