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2nd December, 2021

Managing a Charity’s Reputational Risk: Employment Considerations

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A charity’s reputation is highly valuable.

Charities are held to a higher standard and therefore face greater public scrutiny than commercial organisations of what is and what is not acceptable. Negative publicity can not only mean bad press but it can have a devastating impact on public confidence affecting crowdfunding, fundraising opportunities and relationships with key stakeholders. With so much potentially at stake, it is important for charities to manage its reputational risk. Here, we set out three key considerations to help charities avoid and minimise reputational damage in an employment context.

  1. Implement a social media policy which sets out the charities expectations around use of social media

Social media can be a great tool for charities in driving audience engagement and increasing public awareness; however it is also a way for people to complain or make controversial or derogatory comments in a public domain. Charities need to be aware that an employee’s activity (including comments or reposting) on social media can easily be shared and linked back to their organisation, regardless of whether these comments have been made in a personal or professional capacity. This is particularly the case for senior employees who may be well known within the community or in the wider charity sector as they will be more strongly associated with their employer.

So, what can charities do to minimise the risk of this happening with their employees? As an employer, charities should implement a social media policy which contains clear guidelines of responsible social media use and set out the consequences of breaching these guidelines may lead to disciplinary action including dismissal. Employees should be aware of what social media they can and cannot use during working hours and the kind of comments which would have a detrimental impact on the organisation. Where appropriate, training on social media use should be given for employees to bolster their understanding and act as a reminder. Some employers implement an ‘amnesty period’ where they ask employees and new starters to go through their old posts on social media sites and remove anything which is not appropriate in case these get picked up later. Together, these measures encourage individuals to be conscientious when posting on their social platforms.

If it comes to your attention that an employee has posted an offensive or derogatory comment on social media, then it is important to address this issue and follow the correct disciplinary procedure. Even if it seems obvious that the employee has written this comment, it is essential that you still conduct a fair and proper investigation and allow the employee to put forward their version of events as this will affect the fairness of any decision made.

Dismissal should not be the standard response or done in haste.  For a dismissal to be fair it must be (1) for a fair reason which in this case would likely be misconduct; and (2) that the decision was fair in all circumstances. Whether or not a dismissal is fair will ultimately depend on whether it was reasonable and proportionate to do so based on the specific facts. Factors which would lean more towards a dismissal scenario would be the nature of the comment made, the seniority of the employee, how many people saw the comment and the impact or future impact this comment is likely to have on the charity’s reputation.

  1. Have the correct recruitment, safeguarding and monitoring procedures in place

The actions of employees, as well as other staff involved, has an impact on a charity’s reputation so it is important that each employee undergoes the correct background checks at the recruitment stage to ensure they are qualified for the position.

In addition to the usual obligations that all employers need to follow in terms of recruitment and safeguarding, there are additional issues which charities, particularly in the care sector, should pay closer attention to. It is recommended for charities to not only carry out the appropriate background checks but undertake their own due diligence by requesting copies of relevant qualification certificates, follow up on each reference and query gaps in employment to ensure the candidate is suitable. This is imperative if the position involves working with or around vulnerable individuals such as children, the elderly, those with a disability, medical or special needs.

Health checks may also be appropriate to undertake in certain circumstances. All Care Quality Commission (CQC) regulated service providers who provide accommodation and personal care will need to ensure that staff have received two doses of the COVID vaccine as a mandatory requirement to employment. CQC providers would therefore need to request formal copies of the NHS COVID pass and keep a record of this to demonstrate compliance (with consideration given to data protection obligations).

  1. Have a whistleblowing policy in place that can be followed by concerned employees to encourage employees reporting these incidents internally in the first instance to avoid unnecessary disclosures to third parties

A whistleblowing policy and procedure encourages a culture where concerns are reported internally so management can address these concerns to avoid more serious breaches or reputational damage. An effective whistleblowing policy and procedure should:

  • Stress the seriousness and importance that the charity attaches to identifying and remedying wrongdoing;
  • Encourage employees to raise concerns internally as soon as possible and give them the confidence to do so;
  • Set out the expected standards of behaviour;
  • State who an individual should contact and enable them to bypass a person, level or management within the organisations of which the concern relates;
  • Outline the procedure for investigation disclosure and what steps might be taken if wrongdoing is discovered;
  • Make it clear that genuine whistleblowers will not be subject to any detriment; and
  • Provide access to further sources of advice and guidance on whistleblowing including reporting to the Charity Commission.

Contact us for help and advice.

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