Being a good employer – getting the basics right

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Employing people is a complex business and ensuring that your organisation is legally compliant can seem daunting to the board of trustees of a charity. Many aren’t daunted because they are unaware of their responsibilities and liabilities and may get a rude awakening when something happens to disturb their calm. Keeping abreast of charity legislation and financial reporting requirements occupies a substantial proportion of any organisation’s time and is usually the domain of the Treasurer and CEO and if the charity is big enough – the Finance Director. Keeping up to date with current employment law is just as vital and ensuring that policies and terms and conditions are in place and that staff both are and feel supported should be a key priority for the trustees.

Many charities below a certain size will not have the resources to employ an HR expert and the responsibility will rest with the CEO or another senior manager who may not have HR skills. Organisations often get by with borrowed policies and cut and pasted employment contracts which may be doing the job but quite often contain out of date clauses or inconsistencies. Often it’s only when something negative happens, such as an employment tribunal, that any attention is paid to the basics.

There are several sources of advice and information available and Trustees should set some time aside to review current policies and ensure that their organisation is legally compliant and also ideally behaving well in supporting and communicating with their staff and volunteers. It has been shown that being a good employer is not only a positive thing for its own sake but can improve the effectiveness of the organisation. Better supported staff are more motivated, communicate well , represent the organisation in a positive way and are likely to stay whilst you need them. Unsupported staff cost the organisation money whether directly or indirectly through poor performance and missed opportunities.

So here’s a check list of basics to work through. Perhaps set up a sub group of trustees to make this a priority (and identify someone amongst the Board who can be the HR champion) or if you have paid staff delegate the task to the CEO or senior team to report back to the trustees. Keep it a focus of the work you do as a Board alongside finance, governance and service delivery.

The basics:

1. Consistent and clearly communicated terms and conditions for all staff
2. Written statement of employment particulars – every member of staff should be given one of these within two months of joining.
3. Staff contracts – does everyone have one – are they consistent? Are you clear about who is an employee, volunteer or self employed contractor?
4. Job descriptions – does everyone have one – are they accurate and reviewed regularly? Should include hours worked and location.
5. Clear and consistent remuneration structure – pay, pensions, bonuses, other benefits such as season ticket loans.
6. Annual leave, absence notification and sickness policies, notice period.
7. Grievance and disciplinary procedures.
8. Health and Safety policy (if more than 5 employees) and display a Health and Safety poster
9. Staff handbook incorporating all the above plus policies on equality and diversity, expenses, working with volunteers, learning and development, appraisal scheme and so on.

Some useful sources of information are: – provides a great deal of advice on current employment law requirements. – provides some free information though much is only available to members – if you have an HR trustee on board they will usually be a member of CIPD and can access the full resources. – lots of very useful information and a first port of call if you have problems. – an HR service specifically set up to support charities and voluntary organisations.

There are lots of independent consultants working in this field and many legal firms have specialist employment lawyers , some of whom will provide pro-bono advice. It’s a big field and can be off-putting in its complexity but start with the basics and get those right and you will be on a sound footing for becoming a good employer.