Trustee duties on bullying and harassment

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Trustee duties on bullying and harassment

Published 29 September 2022

In August the Charity Commission clarified the responsibilities of trustees in preventing and responding to incidents of bullying and harassment in their charities.

Role of trustees

Trustees of all charities must ensure that their charity has in place policies and procedures to safeguard everyone who comes into contact with the charity, including staff, volunteers and beneficiaries.  That includes protecting them from harm caused by bullying and harassment.  Charities that work with children or adults at risk will, of course, have additional obligations in respect of these vulnerable groups.

Safeguarding starts with trustees creating a culture that understands, respects and integrates safeguarding into all that it does and where individuals feel able to speak up and understand how complaints and grievances will be dealt with.  It requires ensuring that policies are not only rigorously adhered to on a consistent basis, but proactively referred to as a guide for behaviour and actions with leaders visibly engaged and supportive of all aspects of safeguarding and a commitment to learning and improvement. 

For most charities, one safeguarding policy is unlikely to fit all circumstances and so a suite of policies is often required. For example, policies applicable to staff are usually found within a staff handbook (or similar) while policies related to beneficiaries and others who come into contact with the charity may be set out in separate policies.  All policies should be clear on the charity’s culture and values related to safeguarding, how concerns should be raised and how the charity will handle allegations or incidents, including by being clear on timescales and the process.

Policies should be reviewed as necessary, and lessons learned from incidents should be built into updated versions.

Role of the Charity Commission

Ensuring a culture free from bullying and harassment is a key tenet of good governance. The Commission is clear that “trustees must recognise that there is simply no place for bullying and harassment within, or by, charities”.  Trustees have a clear role to play in this. 

As a regulator focused on charity governance, the Commission has the ability to take action where there are concerns that trustees have not addressed reported bullying or harassment, particularly where it is widespread and systemic within a charity.  The Commission has various regulatory powers to deal with such matters from opening a statutory inquiry to providing advice and issuing warnings. Although the Commission does not have a role in resolving employment matters, trustees are required to ensure their employment practices comply with all applicable employment law.

It should also be noted that the Commission is not a prosecuting authority, and so any criminal wrongdoing associated with bullying and harassment will be dealt with by the appropriate law enforcement agencies. If the Commission has opened regulatory proceedings they would usually be stayed to allow law enforcement to investigate.

Trustees should also be aware that they have a positive obligation to report (promptly) serious actual or alleged incidents of bullying and/or harassment to the Commission under its Serious Incident Reporting arrangements. Those working with charities, including employees and volunteers, can also make reports to the Commission where the concern could cause serious harm to the charity’s:

  • beneficiaries
  • staff or volunteers
  • services
  • assets (including its reputation)

Charities which are regulated by multiple regulators should ensure that appropriate reports are made in accordance with each regulatory regime.

How we can help

We can assist charities in putting in place policies and procedures to ensure a robust framework to safeguard all of those that come into contact with the charity. This includes:

  • safeguarding policies for charities dealing with vulnerable children and adults;
  • employment policies and procedures to deal with all employment matters, including bullying and harassment;
  • volunteer policies;
  • codes of conduct; and
  • training for trustees, staff and volunteers.

The press release is available here.


Emma-Jane Dalley

Emma-Jane Dalley


+44 (0) 117 366 2960

Alistair Robertson

Alistair Robertson

London - Walbrook

+44 (0)20 7894 6020

Anne-Marie Gregory

Anne-Marie Gregory


+44 (0) 117 918 2324

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