The Charity Commission has published an update clarifying the roles and responsibilities of trustees where there are allegations of bullying and harassment within a charity.
At a basic level there is nothing new; the Commission reminds trustees that there is no place for bullying and harassment within, or by, charities. To prevent this, charities and trustees must ensure they have clear policies so that allegations are handled in line with employment, and other, laws. Trustees are responsible for ensuring they have processes in place to hear those concerns and address any governance matters.
A charity with employees should already have welfare, discipline, and whistleblowing policies for staff, following the Commission’s guidance for charities and trustees on safeguarding and protecting people. This update from the Commission announcement makes it clear that policies and procedures should expressly cover bullying and harassment (or a separate policy should be put in place), and trustees will be held to account by the Charity Commission if problems of bullying and harassment are not addressed.
It is worth remembering that the Commission does not get involved in individual employment matters, but may take action if there are concerns about governance issues, or potential mismanagement. The Commission expects that the ‘most serious’ actual or alleged bullying or harassment incidents should be reported under the serious incident reporting arrangements so that it can assess them. Recent experience suggests that a failure to report a serious incident may be used by the Charity Commission as evidence that trustees are not managing risks appropriately.
Charities are frequently asked questions about why they decided not to make a report when the Commission thinks one should have been submitted. Care should therefore be taken to address when a bullying or harassment incident may be reportable. If a serious allegation is raised, or there is more than one similar allegation of harassment or bullying, it is recommended that a serious incident report is made to demonstrate that trustees are aware of their duties, and are addressing issues as they arise.
If no report is made, this may suggest a pattern of unaddressed, widespread, or possibly even systemic concerns of bullying or harassment, and care needs to be taken not to avoid wider issues arising or escalating. If they do, this could prompt the Commission to take action.
Such action may vary, and could include providing regulatory advice to trustees, giving a warning, or, occasionally, the opening of a statutory inquiry. The Charity Commission takes into account how the charity’s trustees responded to any incidents when making its decisions, and a paper trail demonstrating both an awareness of bullying and harassment, and how and why decisions were taken, will be crucial in any investigations that may arise.