Many organizations find it advantageous to form a personnel committee to handle the human resource issues that may arise. Although this is a committee of the board, its membership can include anyone the board decides they want. Unlike other committees, personnel meetings are rarely open. Deliberations are not reported in the general board minutes but in confidential reports to the board.
There are many reasons for confidentiality when dealing with personnel issues. First, you always must respect the feelings and reputation of an employee who may be having a difficult time with issues that are unrelated to the organization but that are nonetheless affecting performance. In addition, if the personnel committee also acts as a hiring committee, it is inappropriate to divulge names of people you chose to not hire. These people may be involved in your community, and announcing that they were not hired would cause, at the least, embarrassment and, at the worst, serious harm to their reputation.
The second and perhaps most important reason to maintain confidentiality is the threat of lawsuits. As discussed in Chapter 18, employee-related lawsuits represent the greatest need for board and officer insurance. Like it or not, people often pursue legal action even when calm negotiation or binding arbitration would have resolved the problem.
If your personnel committee sets any type of formal interview process, it must adhere to a legal framework that includes such factors as maintaining the uniformity of its questions (every candidate is asked the same questions). Never ask inappropriate questions that would reveal a candidate's age, religion, sexual orientation, or nonwork-impacting handicap. It may be wise to review proposed questions and interview methods with an attorney.
The threat of legal actions goes both ways. Volunteers or paid employees can and do bring legal actions for any number of reasons, but organizations do the same thing. Most of all, plan strategies to avoid potential litigation. Maintaining strict confidentiality is an excellent start.Employee Policies
Before they can make any hiring decisions, the personnel committee usually must draft and submit an employee manual for approval by the full board of directors. There are many examples to draw from to establish a basic manual. Other nonprofits will be more than willing to share their employee manuals with you. Before going into the specifics, include a welcoming page from the director and or board president. A new volunteer or paid employee will be nervous in the beginning, and reading a friendly note from the people at the very core of the organization will ease the transition into the group.
The first major section of the handbook contains employee policies. These policies inform employees and volunteers what you expect of them. Cover details such as schedules, use of the computer, and confidentiality issues regarding the organization's records. It is also the best place to spell out the general expectations the organization has for everyone, volunteer or paid staff. This may include the mission statement or other documents that explain why the organization exists.
It is also the place for general housekeeping details such as hours of operation, recognized holidays, and basic procedures. If compensated personnel are involved, include details about pay, deductions, and the like.Employee Grievances and Reviews
A personnel committee should be established to provide an arena to arbitrate problems that will inevitably arise among people who work together. A committee consisting of people representing many parts of the organization often encourages an increased level of openness not possible in traditional employee/employer meetings. You will find that minor grievances can be resolved painlessly as soon as people are comfortable and begin to talk. Situations that are either very serious or very complicated will require outside help or mediation to resolve. For most situations in small nonprofit organizations just starting out, you can rest assured that few problems will rise to a level requiring such intervention.
Schedule formal written reviews of paid employees and valued volunteers at least once a year. The reviews are an excellent way to offer support to the people actually carrying out the organization's mission. Stress the positive contributions people make to the organization.
Weekly or even monthly staff meetings for everyone involved in operations are essential. Having the opportunity to talk with and listen to one another often resolves potentially problematic situations long before they escalate. Remember that your volunteers are every bit as important as any paid staff and should be included in meetings or other communications. The reliance on volunteers is a two-way street; they give you their time and expertise, and you must give them respect and gratitude for their hard work.