Date updated: Wednesday 1st December 2021

This article summarises some recent and upcoming developments in relation to safeguarding that charities need to be aware of, including new duties around sexual harassment in the workplace.

National Safeguarding Adults Week ran from 15- 21 November. The aim of the week is to highlight safeguarding key issues, facilitate conversations and to raise awareness of safeguarding best practice. The theme this year was creating safer cultures. Promoting safer cultures is all about how organisations and individuals can take steps to minimise harm occurring in the first place, whilst at the same time ensuring correct policies and procedures are in place so that safeguarding concerns that are raised, are recognised and responded to effectively. One of the key parts of our safeguarding governance training has been the recognition that culture and ‘buy-in’ to the importance of safeguarding from the trustees down through an organisation is key to a successful safeguarding approach. There is no room for poor practice and beneficiaries, staff and volunteers need to feel comfortable that if they raise a concern it will be dealt with appropriately by the charity.

The Charity Commission recently added a new ‘5-minute guides for charity trustees’ on safeguarding to its suite of guidance notes. Whilst it is rather high-level, it is a starting point for trustees new to safeguarding to understand the key principles and expectations of the Charity Commission.  Safeguarding should be a key governance priority for trustees. The guide reiterates that it is not just charities working with vulnerable groups such as children and adults at risk that need to consider their approach to safeguarding. Trustees have a duty to safeguard everyone that comes into contact with their charity, including beneficiaries, staff and volunteers.  

The guidance says that charities need to identify and manage risk; have suitable policies and procedures in place; carry out necessary checks including DBS checks at the level that a given role is eligible for; protect volunteers and staff; and handle and report incidents appropriately. Trustees will need to go well beyond this guide to fully understand their duties and there is further guidance available on the Commission’s website.

The Commission suggests that organisations check when they last reviewed their policies and practices. If it’s been over a year, you need to review them as a priority. There are several policies that you may need to put in place, depending on the activities that your charity carries out and the nature and level of contact with vulnerable groups but these could include a safeguarding policy, a code of behaviour, an anti-harassment and bullying policy and a Whistleblowing policy. Safeguarding should form part of your ‘live’ risk management process, which should be regularly reviewed and documented.

The Commission has also recently updated its guidance ‘Safeguarding and protecting people for charities and trustees’ to include a new section on managing the safeguarding risks when operating online. It also updates some terminology and links to other sources of support. The new section, which covers operating online, requires charities to review their policies to ensure that they reflect the associated safeguarding risks of operating online. It identifies 3 C’s:

  • Content: does your charity have adequate control over its website and social media accounts? Who can post information and is all content suitable for your charity?
  • Contact: how do people talk to each other when using your online services and how do you keep users safe? Do people need passwords to access services?
  • Conduct: how do you monitor what people do, say and share when using your services?

As stated above, charities have a duty to safeguard their staff and volunteers. Following publication of the government’s response to the sexual harassment in the workplace consultation, the government has announced its intention, as soon as parliamentary time allows, to impose a proactive duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. Whilst this is yet to be implemented, charities should be proactive and implement best practice before the legal position changes. There are a number of measures that can be considered:

  • Review current reporting procedures for sexual harassment
    • Ensure there is a safe and supportive culture that enables employees to feel they can report instances of harassment
    • Consider whether privacy and confidentiality are fully respected
    • Ensure parties are treated equally and with respect during an investigation
  • Adopt a zero-tolerance approach to concerns and reports
    • Employers should ensure all reports are investigated
    • Employers that do nothing when faced with reports are likely to be viewed as failing to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.
  • Implement appropriate training measures
    • Include regular training regarding sexual harassment and how to prevent it
    • Ensure any training is designed with the employment context in mind so that it is more relatable for employees
    • Ensure employees also receive refresher training at regular intervals

Finally, a brief point about safe recruitment. Please remember that it is important to follow the key principles of safe recruitment when recruiting for a role which involves contact with vulnerable groups.  Ensuring best practice and a robust process when it comes to a recruitment exercise will ensure that you recruit the right person who is suitable for the role. This involves embedding safe recruitment into each stage of your recruitment process, from the initial job advert and role description, to the interview process, pre-employment checks, an offer of employment and induction/probation of the successful candidate. Failure to get this right can lead to your charity being exposed to unnecessary risk and costs.

For further advice and guidance on any of the issues raised in this article, please contact Sarah Clune.