These past few years have seen a dramatic shift in the look and feel of the workplace. Charities are experiencing new HR challenges, from competing needs and interests, through to managing a workforce that has mixed feelings about the value of the office and more active trade unions. At this year’s Spotlight conference, Paul Jennings, Paul Seath and Mindy Jhittay took to the stage to tackle the key issues affecting charity workplaces as we move into 2024.

Regional pay, remote working, and working abroad

Pre-covid, expectations weren’t what they are going into 2024. London weighting for pay and 5 days a week in the office were the norm. Following the pandemic, and a shift in the generational work force, a workplace is now required to be more flexible. Whilst remote working opens a greater talent pool for charities, and flexible working acts as a great recruitment tool, charities need to be mindful of their responsibilities regarding fairness across the board, reasonable adjustments, avoid indirect discrimination and ensuring consistent contract updates.

There is also the conversation to be had around what remote working means, and where that can be. Whilst working abroad is hugely attractive for many staff, it can be detrimental to the employer. Each country has its own rules about the right to work, employment law rights, the status of the individual, whether it be an employee or a consultant, and the rules that impact on each of those groups. There will be different health and safety regimes. There will be different tax and social contribution regimes. And the employer needs to understand all of those rules in each of the countries in which it has people working. And depending on what the individual is doing when they are working abroad, their work abroad could potentially lead to the creation of an establishment for corporate tax purposes in that particular jurisdiction.

In 2024 we expect challenges to pay to become more frequent also, as people take into account travel costs as workplaces move to a hybrid model, and the ongoing cost of living crisis affecting employees.

Our Homeworking and Hybrid Working: the Legal Aspects guide may be of help.

Trans inclusivity in the workplace

Employers are rightly concerned about inclusivity in the workplace. This can be very difficult to manage where people are sharing facilities. One practical question which comes up is whether transgender women can use the women’s toilets in the workplace.  

If a trans person has a gender recognition certificate they are entitled to be treated as their acquired gender for almost all purposes. But if not, the law affords a margin of discretion. Although there may be strong intuitive and ideological views either way, this is often a very practical issue. What is the physical space like – are there separate, lockable cubicles? And who’s sharing it – are there people with strong religious or gender critical views about privacy and dignity? These beliefs are protected in law.

Guidance which simply says allow employees to use the facilities of the gender they identify with is now out of date and overly simplistic. Lots of different people will be affected by this one decision, so the sensible way forward is to have a discussion with yours, in an open, transparent, respectful way. Your decision may not necessarily please everyone, but you should listen and hear what they have to say about their viewpoints and perceived risks. It is better to have that conversation before you have a live request, which relates to a real individual.

There is no right or wrong answer, legally. You’ve got to think ahead, go through the process, and justify the decision you’ve come to. There is a margin of discretion, and you could reach a different decision depending on the space you’re in, and who’s sharing that space. You should also keep that decision under review as employees leave and new ones arrive.

When you’re dealing with very sensitive situations like this realistically you can expect there to be concerns and tensions. Taking these steps to plan ahead, and make sure everyone’s been considered and feels heard, is a sensible approach and employers that do that will find themselves in a much better position.

If you need further information, visit our EDI hub.

Trade Unions

We have seen increased Trade Union activity in not-for-profit organisations in the last year, and these organisations are not always geared up to deal with those interactions particularly putting in place new agreements (usually on a voluntary basis).

Whilst these agreements may look non-threating and are fine when the relationship is working well, charities need to be mindful of the ramifications of unclear expectations in agreements.

Over the last year we have seen confirmation from the Supreme Court that if an employer and trade union reach stale mate over pay, the employer finds themselves not being able to move forward with employees only. Unless the employer has exhausted the Trade Union process, they are not allowed to go direct to staff, and if they do, there can be serious financial penalties.

That means it’s critical that agreements between the employer and the trade unions set out very clearly what the expectations are in that negotiation process, and what, or when, that process can be categorically said to be at an end.

And there are other key issues to look for in trade union agreements, such as: who does it cover? Do all of the staff understand the implications of collective bargaining for them, even if they’re not a member of the union? Are there any exclusions? What are the mechanisms and how they operate, and what resources and facilities does the employer need to put in place and how much time are reps allowed to have?

Nine times out of ten, all these arrangements work absolutely fine, and we hear very positive messages of good working relationships that benefit everybody. But for the one in ten that doesn’t, these agreements (or agreements that haven’t been as carefully crafted and as drafted as they might have been) can create quite a significant headache for the employer, because of that lack of clarity, and because we are seeing more movement within the sector.

Our recent update on recognition, collaboration and meaningful action in relation to Trade Unions may be helpful reading.

If you would like to discuss any of these topics further, please do get in touch.