The Charity Commission expects charities to have clear policies on bullying and for trustees to handle allegations appropriately, it has said.
The statement follows a working group formed with charity sector organisations and other representatives including ACEVO, NCVO, WCVA, and the Association of Chairs to clarify where responsibilities for addressing bullying and harassment lie within the sector.
“Trustees have a central role to play to ensure their charity has clear policies, and that allegations are handled appropriately and in line with employment and other laws. Those concerned about bullying or harassment are encouraged to take their concerns directly to the charity or its trustees whenever this is appropriate, and trustees are responsible for ensuring they have processes in place to hear those concerns and address the matter.”
The Commission’s safeguarding guidance also sets out that charities with employees should have welfare, discipline and whistleblowing policies for staff, including clear policies and procedures on bullying and harassment.
Charities should also report the most serious actual or alleged incidents of bullying or harassment for the regulator to assess, with workers and volunteers also able to make reports to the Commission.
The Commission itself, it says, will get involved where there is the highest risk of harm, for example where there are concerns that trustees have not addressed reported bullying or harassment that is widespread and systemic within a charity, or there are concerns about governance issues or potential mismanagement.
It also said that it does not have a role in resolving individual employment issues, and that these should generally be raised with the charity through their grievance procedures, followed by action in the employment tribunals if necessary. It is also not a prosecuting authority, with investigating alleged criminal offences the responsibility of law enforcement agencies. Reports relating to any threat to an individual’s safety should be shared with the police in the first instance, before notifying the Commission in due course.
Commenting, Paul Latham, Director of Policy at the Charity Commission, said:
“There is no place for bullying and harassment in society, and there is certainly no place for it in the charitable sector. In a sector grounded on kindness and generosity, this kind of culture is unacceptable.
“I am grateful for the leadership shown by our sector group on this issue and am pleased that we have been working so collaboratively to better communicate the Commission’s role and underline the role played by individual charities and the wider sector.
“We are clear that we expect charities to take action to prevent and deal with incidents, but that we will intervene where there are concerns that trustees are not complying with their responsibilities, including in relation to safeguarding, to protect charities and the wider charitable sector.”
Jane Ide OBE, Chief Executive at ACEVO, said:
“Bullying and harassment is unacceptable in any part of our sector and at any level of it. It is essential that we work collaboratively to establish a zero tolerance approach to bullying and harassment and to ensure that everyone working in civil society, whether paid staff or volunteer, feels safe and respected in their work.
“We welcome the focus from the Charity Commission on its role as our regulator in this context. The clarification provided today on serious incident reporting and the role the Commission will – and will not – play in those circumstances is a helpful step.
“This is just one part of our sector’s response to the issue though. We look forward to working alongside the Commission and our colleagues across civil society to continue to inform, educate and support our sector in creating a safe and inclusive culture for all.”