Hospitality workplace policies – is your business covered?

"Employers are exposing themselves to risks if they don't have a proper policy in place."
"Employers are exposing themselves to risks if they don't have a proper policy in place."

Work visas, employee contracts, drugs and alcohol policies, health and safety regulations, and even data collection laws – nobody ever said hospitality SMEs have it easy when it comes to administrative responsibilities not directly related to their core business goals.

However, one thing more expensive and time consuming than implementing comprehensive documentation to address these important issues is not implementing documentation and getting caught short.

"Workplace policies, which the vast majority of small-to-medium bars, restaurants and cafes don't have enough of, serve to outline behaviour expectations within the organisation when staff are on company property and company time," says Damien Andreasen, a former Sydney bar manager and the co-founder of LawPath, which offers cloud legal services to hospitality businesses at a fraction of the time, cost and complexity associated with traditional law firms.

"Even if employees finish a shift and stay at the premises – do they and their managers know their responsibilities in that situation? These factors should be a standard part of the training process."

Given the prevalence of factors like bar staff serving alcohol all night and staying back for drinks after hours, Andreasen says a clear drugs and alcohol policy is an absolute must. "Employers are exposing themselves to risks if they don't have a proper policy in place. Without clear definitions the employer and the business can be in real strife if and when something actually goes wrong. Those ramifications could range from massive fines to potentially being sued by an employee."

Summertime madness

Summer is the hospitality sector's time to cash in, but the peak period comes with its own set of unique challenges. "There is a significant shift in summer. It's when you get that transient hospitality workforce coming through. You need to ramp up your staff because you're so much busier than winter, and the people you find are usually backpackers and internationals," Andreasen explains.

"So you have to look at the risks associated with that change. Do they hold the right visa to work in hospitality venues? Is that visa still valid?"

Is that in the contract?

"While it's easy to use an employment contract template from a mate who runs a bar, if you don't know where he got it then you don't know if you're actually using a document that is legally defensible or binding in any way. It's a real minefield. A business should have this and other policies in place by the time it hires its first employee," Andreasen says.

Adding insult to injury

Managing injury risk and occurrence in the workplace is also critical. "People can slice fingers or burn themselves in commercial kitchens, for example, and a duty manager is obligated to be aware of the process that must be undertaken when something like that happens," Andreasen says.

Keeping out of private property problems

Hospitality businesses are frequently collecting customer data via the use of new public ID scanners for security purposes or gathering email addresses for future promotions. "Whatever the reason is to collect this type of information, legislation changed earlier this year (2014) meaning businesses have a duty of care to make the privacy policy accessible at the venue and/or on the website. The privacy policy can take a very simple format, as long as it outlines where that data will be stored and what you are going to do with it."

Proactive approach

"The reality is that if you don't protect your business you can suffer millions of dollars in fines that will cripple the business," Andreasen says. "In hospitality there's often a major focus on licences when setting up the business, but after a while operators get caught up running day-to-day activities rather than addressing other important areas.

"Sometimes small businesses are so busy that administrative tasks are allowed to slip. Legal assistance can be time consuming and costly, but that is nothing compared to the worst possible outcomes of not being adequately protected."

So where do hospitality operators start? "If you do it correctly the first time, doing it over and over is that much easier. Educating yourself is a much better policy than putting your head in the sand and assuming it will be okay, until the time comes when it's not okay."