Employing Staff

Article modified: December 2021, Author:


For many organisations recruiting their first paid worker after relying on volunteer effort, the positive buzz is undermined by not just having to come to terms with new management issues but also all the regulations and issues around employing staff. Some voluntary organisations think these only apply to commercial bodies and ignore, others try to apply the approach of large corporations (where trustees might work) resulting in overkill.

There are get outs on some regulations for smaller concerns, but you should always check (and also consider whether in best practice terms or because of the number of volunteers you should respect them anyway).

Workforce resources on NCVO website.

Trades Unions, Associations

Some parts of the sector are heavily unionised, while elsewhere they don’t seem to have heard of them. Employers can’t use them as information sources directly, but staff who are members can often get some useful general briefings for free. Unions with dedicated voluntary sector branches include:

  • Unison Probably the largest presence in the sector (around 50,000 members quoted early 2006). Contact National Officer for Voluntary Sector (Mike Short), 1 Mabledon Place, London, WC1H 9AJ, phone 0845 355 0845, email: cvsector@unison.co.uk. There is also a Voluntary Organisations Branch based at Suite 103/4, 134-146 Curtain Road, London, EC2A 3AR, phone 020 7729 4001/5001.
  • Unite has a specialist section for community, play, youth and not-for profit workers in the UK.
  • Association of Community Workers Info about various aspects of community work. Stephenson Buildings, Elswick Rd, Newcastle, NE4 6SQ, phone 0191 272 4341 (these contact details may be out of date).
  • Community union includes branches covering specific voluntary sector areas/activities, and incorporates British Union of Social Work and National League of the Blind & Disabled (recognised in sheltered workshops). The Community Union Combined Branches in the North of England (Yorkshire & Humberside, Manchester and Lancashire) specifically organises and recruits in the Voluntary, Community Care and Housing Associations Sector.

Employment Contracts and Policies

The Policies Checklist we have compiled will flag up some issues you need to consider, such as Disciplinary and Grievance, Time Off in Lieu, Redundancy, Retirement. There are certain legal requirements to any employment contract. These include issuing a written ‘statement of employment particulars’ within 2 months of starting (sooner if working abroad), for any employee working longer than a month, with no minimum working hours. It must include names, start date, salary, hours and place of work, holidays. This or other documents must cover sick pay, pensions, length of contract if not permanent, any collective agreements.

Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures. Check out advice from ACAS.

NCVO will send you model standard and fixed term employment contracts if you send an sae to the Helpdesk, NCVO, Regent’s Wharf, 8 All Saints Street, London, N1 9RL (helpdesk phone 0800 2798 798).

Valuing the Voluntary Sector – Quality Conditions for Quality Services was a campaign from TGWU, September 2005, which included a charter of rights for people working in voluntary organisations. No longer running, but check Unite pages.

A Guide to Good Employment was produced by Northern Ireland sector support body NICVA, but disappeared from website in 2014 redesign. Try their HR or Resources sections for other employment help. While much of the human resources guidance will be common across the UK, do note that some legal requirements differ.

Please take legal advice or consult a support body for more guidance – we can’t give definitive information here due to the breadth of the subject and range of organisations who might be reading this.

Sources of Advice

  • Personnel consultants specialising in the sector will be listed on the management consultants list. This specialism may or may not be highlighted for an entry, but its worth asking.
  • ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) As well as their well-known role of mediating in disputes, they run a variety of employment related workshops at reasonable prices. They also have short advice publications, specimen forms etc. which can be downloaded from the web site or picked up for free from their offices, on such topics as contracts of employment, discipline at work, flexible employment requirements. Contact your regional office. London office: Clifton House, 83-117 Euston Road, NW1 2RB, phone 020 7396 5121.
  • HRNet, run by the Cranfield Trust, offers charities online Human Resources advice and access to information on HR developments.
  • Institute for Employment Studies A charity connected to Sussex Uni – all aspects of employment policy and practice, do research and consultancy.
  • HRZone has a variety of online resources, some free.
  • Your rights at work: A TUC guide comes as a result of the demand from the TUC’s Know Your Rights phone line. Order from Kogan Page, phone 01903 828800 (£8-99).

Work as part of life

How far work should be allowed to dominate an individual’s life is increasing in importance as an issue in the sector. Why should relationships and social life suffer because of your work being so crucial? Isn’t it better for all (including performance at work) to strike a fair balance? These are some of the questions you can investigate further via the following links:

  • Working Families believes that implementing work-life balance practices helps the voluntary sector build capacity through flexible working and improve recruitment and retention. 1-3 Berry Street, London, EC1V 0AA, phone 020 7253 7243, email: office@workingfamilies.org.uk
  • The Work Foundation did have relevant publications such as Time to go home – embracing the homeworking revolution (May 03), which includes management and legal advice, and The Work-Life Manual, ‘a practical tool … to help identify what work-life initiatives you can introduce’, but not sure that these are still available.
  • Getting It Right: Improving work-life balance in your business, jointly produced by NSPCC with Federation of Small Businesses and British Chambers of Commerce, is a free practical guide looking at how 11 different businesses (including a voluntary organisation and a housing association) have successfully introduced flexible employment patterns. However, it doesn’t appear to be available any more, Jan ’06.
  • Family and Childcare Trust Has information and advice for parents on childcare options and entitlements.

Note that certain, basic, legal requirements on flexible working were introduced from April ’03. See most of the above for details.


Employment Regulations

Useful websites

More indepth/for the professional

  • For loads of web links check out British Employment Law Information. This is a service from DiscLaw Publishing, who work with the Law Society. It also provides access to the professional Employment Law pages for £5 a day, which you can sign up for instantly (something like £120 for a year, which includes CD-ROM too).
  • Employment Law free email news service from Daniel Barnett (barrister). Only for those who really want to keep on top of legal developments as they happen – a professional approach.
  • Employment Appeal Tribunal for law reports.


We don’t claim or seek to cover everything here. Just the issues most likely to impact on voluntary sector organisations. See Useful web sites (above) for more.

Employers Liability Insurance is a requirement – check out Insurers if you haven’t got this covered, and remember to check whether it covers volunteers working for you. We understand that in addition to having to display a valid certificate proving your cover, the organisation must now keep this for 40 years!

Work Permits are administered by part of Home Office’s Border Agency. Work permit arrangements allow employers based in Great Britain to employ people who are not nationals of a European Economic Area country and are not otherwise entitled to work in this country. See Gov.Uk section ‘Check if someone can work in the UK‘.

National Minimum Wage regulations are enforced by HM Revenue & Customs. Rates are revised from time to time. If you pay more than reimbursement of expenses to volunteers, watch out! There are also implications on record keeping, especially if you pay less than £12,000 per year (£1,000 per month). The NMW information line is on 0845 8450 360.

Unfair dismissal considerations apply after one year. This means that if you have had someone on temporary contracts for more than a year, you might have a problem if that employment comes to an end (for whatever reason) unless you know your employment law.

Criminal Record Checks /Barring We give the basics of this under Volunteers and the law. This mainly impacts on care and children organisations. See Disclosure and Barring Service (was Criminal Records Bureau, alternative link on Gov.uk). In Scotland, it is Protection of Vulnerable Groups (PVG) checks – see Disclosure Scotland or Volunteer Scotland resources.

Unions, industrial action

Union recognition and ballots. Part of Employment Relations Act 1999 provisions, in force from June 2000.

BIS has published a guide for employees / trade union members who are considering taking industrial action, in pdf format ‘Industrial Action and the Law‘.

Gov.uk Trade Unions and workers rights section.

Leave, working hours, work-life balance

Parental Leave – Maternity and Paternity leave. Improvements in entitlements from April 03. There are also rights for time off for emergencies involving dependants (but no obligation for this to be paid).

Working Time Regulations came into force October 1998. 48 hours averaged over 17 weeks is the maximum unless the employee has agreed in writing, or there is a union agreement. There are various other rights and some types of workers with other get outs.

Gov.uk on leave and time off (England, Wales and NI).


The Equality and Human Rights Commission is the official anti-discrimination body.

Disability Discrimination Act See the disability related sites on People Resources page. Employers with 15 or more employees may not discriminate against current or prospective employees with disabilities. Small employer exemption ended Oct ’04.

Religious and sexual orientation discrimination regulations from December 2003. See ACAS guidance.

Race discrimination Under amendments brought in July 03, an exemption from the 1976 Race Relations Act that had allowed charities serving particular racial groups to recruit staff from a particular racial group has been partially repealed. ‘Genuine occupational requirements’ can still be used when recruiting staff, where the nature of the employment requires someone of a particular race, ethnic or national origin.