Charities – employment disputes and reputational damage

It has been reported that:-

  • a former employee of Roshni, a charity established to protect vulnerable children and adults in ethnic communities from abuse, was harassed by the founder of the charity to such an extent that she suffered post traumatic stress;
  • Roshni was ordered by an employment tribunal to pay the employee £75,000 in damages;
  • the Tribunal Judge stated “We wish to record our disappointment that a charity which uses public funds to raise awareness about abuse finds it acceptable to allow the chief perpetrator of very grave acts of victimisation to continue his involvements in the activities of the organisation”;
  • A spokesperson for the charity said that:-

“In retrospect the case was not as well defended as it ought to have been. Two members of Roshni staff had a relationship which ultimately led to an employment tribunal”.

The potential difficulties arising from relationships between staff will be familiar to many employers.  There may, however, be additional pressures on and considerations for charity trustees when handling contentious employment situations – especially in a climate where it appears that the press is all too willingly to criticize individuals who act, on a voluntary basis, as charity trustees.

As an absolute minimum, charity trustees must ensure that their actions are lawful and they should also reflect best employment practice.  In particular, policies should be put in place reflecting what the organization expects of their employees and the way in which they should conduct themselves inside and, if appropriate, outside work.  In the Roshni case, it appears that the organization failed to deal with the employee’s complaints which compounded the harm suffered by her and resulted in a significant damages award.  Identifying a problem and taking advice at an early stage is invaluable and will, in many cases, avoid an escalation to litigation.

These are matters of general employment law and practice but advice from a charity specialist may also be required, for example, in relation to:-

  • employees who are charity trustees or who are related to charity trustees;
  • any settlement agreement, which may be driven not only by a concern to reflect best employment practice but also, perhaps, as being in the best interests of the charity to mitigate or avoid reputational damage; and/or
  • a situation which is likely to cause reputational damage as the charity may be required to make a serious incident report to the Charity Commission.

At Thursfields, our charities team includes lawyers who are able to assist with the employment and charity regulatory aspects of employment matters.

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