Lindsey answers your questions on volunteering

Lindsey Cartwright is a member of Morton Fraser’s employment law team based in the Glasgow office. She advises both employers and employees on a wide range of employment law issues, including unfair dismissal, compromise agreements, business reorganisations, redundancy, workplace discrimination and restrictive covenants.

She acts for clients at all stages of the employment relationship and regularly represents clients in the Employment Tribunal and EAT across the UK.

Lindsey is a member of the Employment Lawyers Association and a Licentiate member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development.

Morton Fraser is a leading full-service law firm working with large multinationals, the public sector and not-for-profit organisations across Europe.

We are delighted that Lindsey will be answering your questions here each month.

Dear 3rdi
I work for a company which helps young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to obtain qualifications by providing support such as tutoring, free childcare, careers advice etc. We do fantastic work and I love my job but we are quite under-resourced and I have concerns about the way that some things are done. We “sail close to the wind” on many things, such as health and safety, and I have concerns that something is going to go wrong. When I have mentioned my concerns in passing in the past, I have been told not to worry, but I do. How can I have my concerns taken seriously without putting my job at risk?
Jackie, Carlisle

Dear Jackie
As you have clearly realised, when it comes to things like health and safety, the law does not discriminate between organisations who have to fight for resources and those who are very well-resourced. All organisations owe duties towards their employees and service-users, particularly when it comes to health and safety. The consequences of breaching these duties can be very damaging, not only in terms of punishment for the organisation (and those running it), but also for the organisation’s reputation. If you do disclose your concerns about this type of matter and you are then either treated detrimentally or dismissed as a result of this, then you have special protection and are entitled to complain to an Employment Tribunal about this. The level of damages you could be awarded is uncapped for this type of matter, so it would be incredibly ill-advised for your employer to take any action against you as a result of raising a concern. Nonetheless, on the basis that you love your job and want to maintain good relations as a priority, raise your concerns in a way that shows that you have the best interests of the organisation at heart. For example, find a recent article about health and safety which underlines the level of fines which can be imposed on organisations and use it to prompt a conversation with someone who you think will listen and have the authority to do something. Tell them that you came across the article and that it made you think about the organisation’s practices and how failure to tighten them up could result in the organisation’s downfall one day. Tell them that you would be keen to do your part in rectifying this and ask them let you know what they plan to do about it. That is sufficient to protect you from any detrimental treatment and will also demonstrate your commitment to the organisation going forward.

Regards
Lindsey

Dear 3rdi
I have always enjoyed giving something back by doing volunteer work. I have done this in the evenings in the past, but would actually like to devote more time to it and have been thinking about asking to work fewer hours to accommodate this or to take a sabbatical. I am concerned though that my employer might say no and then will question my commitment to my job. Do I have any rights and, if not, how might I approach this?
Helen, London

Dear Helen
Check first whether or not your employer has a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policy. Many employers do because they are often asked, as part of tender processes, to demonstrate their commitment to CSR. It might well be that that policy deals with the question of time off for volunteering and what to do to request this. If there is no policy, or the policy doesn’t mention time off, then check any Staff Handbook for other provisions on either requesting flexible working or requesting time off. If there is no such provision (other than the usual holiday provisions) then, in terms of “your rights”, you are left with your statutory rights, which don’t give a right to people to request flexible working for any purpose other than childcare or care for a dependent relative. Research shows, however, that where employers have widened the scope of their flexible working policies to include all employees, there is a positive impact on staff retention and morale. You could perhaps use your situation to underline to your HR department why they might want to consider increasing the scope of their flexible working policy. Arm yourself with some articles underlining the positive effects that it might have for the organisation and tell them that you would be happy to be a guinea pig for this, to see how it works and to assess how well it is received by other members of staff. Even more importantly, demonstrate to them that you have thought about the impact of your flexible working on the business and suggest how that might be handled. That way, the impression you give will be much more professional and your employer is likely to respond more amenably. They are less likely to think that you are not committed to your job as you will clearly have factored your job into your plans.
Good luck!

Regards
Lindsey

If you would like to ask Lindsey a question relating to your employment or a problem being faced in your organisation, please email your question to us at support@the3rdi.co.uk

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