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Comment by Helen Giles, the HR director of homelessness charity Broadway, implies that charities are especially vulnerable to Employment Tribunal claims. We have experience of supporting local charities that have joined our client base and we have observed many others at Tribunal. The vulnerability is true and there are two main reasons why.

1.         Voluntary Boards

Charities are often accountable to Boards of committed and dedicated volunteers who give of their time and expertise freely; although it is often one or the other. This latter restriction can cause problems when it comes to the crucial area of recruitment and particularly so when the appointment is of a Chief Executive or Manager. Finding and selecting the right person can be a time consuming process demanding real skill and expertise. Even salaried, trained recruiters employing assessment centre techniques make the “right” selection decisions only about two-thirds of the time. The potential for making a mistake is obvious.

2.         Assumption of “well meaning-ness”

Because it is a charity with an altruistic purpose it is easy to assume employees will be committed to the organisation – that somehow disagreements will be easy to sort out because everyone is committed to the purpose of the charity. Disagreements are especially dangerous when issues could be bullying or discrimination. Occurrences that are open to mis-interpretation cannot always be easily sorted out and employees of a charity have rights just as all other employees do.

This assumption can extend to the belief that an employee, including the most senior employee, will not take action that could damage the charity. This is a mistake. We have seen instances where such employees have been ruthless in their pursuit of claims that have marginal legitimacy. And it is just that marginal legitimacy that means it is rarely worth defending such a Tribunal claim. It means that even if the charity wins, which it would expect to do, there is no prospect of recovering its costs in defending the case.

What to do

Professional recruitment

Voluntary boards will be unwise if they under-estimate the importance of recruitment and selection. The selection process can be designed to maximise the prospects of success, and involvement of a professional in that process will, in most cases, repay the costs incurred many times.

Policies and procedures

Simply having these in place reduces the possibility of an Employment Tribunal claim by a third (Government figures). Equal opportunities, bullying and harassment and discipline and grievance policies are essential for a charity. But there are others, such as a social networking policy, which it would be judicious to adopt.

Use mediation

When disagreements surface it is valuable to have employee relations advice. Often matters can be settled most effectively using a mediation process. This is always the least expensive approach and can produce remarkable results.

Subscribe to employee relations advice

But sometimes mediation is not appropriate or matters have already gone too far and advice on formal processes is necessary. Advice is necessary to reduce your risk. Subscriptions to employee relations specialists, such as Employer Solutions, can reduce your risk of a Tribunal claim by 90% or more. Furthermore the chances of defending any claim successfully are hugely increased if the correct procedures have been followed. If settlement is the judicious option then the likelihood of defending a claim successfully increases the prospect of a nominal settlement figure.

Lobby for a more equitable Tribunal system

Figures suggest that Tribunals are reluctant to award costs against claimants. As we have seen, charities are especially vulnerable to claims. The question, as to whether wholesale reform is necessary or all that is required is an improvement in the way the Tribunal system handles speculative claims, is open to debate.