The Personnel Code: Protecting the Non-Profit Organization and the Employees

Last week I discussed the role of the personnel committee within the framework of the board of directors of a non-profit organization. The committee is the first step in the non-profits efforts to formulate equitable and appropriate policies guiding the engagement and employment of professional and administrative staff members. The next step is the articulation or codification of the overall policies into a document that clearly states both the overriding policies as well as the practices of the organization. Generally it is referred to as a “personnel code”, however often agencies select other titles including employee handbook, human resources code, or other similar terms.

The level of lay leadership involvement in the organization determines to what extent the personnel committee will participate in developing and approving the personnel code. In larger organizations where there is a Director of Human Resources (Personnel Director) this person will prepare the code and it will be reviewed by the executive and the legal counsel of the organization to insure that it is consistent with labor laws and laws guiding non-profit organizations. In smaller agencies the personnel committee might review a draft of the document and this will provide an additional perspective on the personnel practices and educate the board members to learn more about the organization.

The document itself will be either divided up into several sections and subsections focused on specific subjects or will be one document with a number of paragraphs. The actual structure should be relevant and appropriate to the agency and not arbitrarily selected because another organization has a document that seems to be appropriate. The content also reflects the most important aspects of workers’ relationship to the organization.

Having said this, there are basic areas that are included in the code: general terms of employment; definition of full-time and part-time employment, i.e. the number of days per week or hours per week someone is employed, etc. the days and times the office is closed throughout the year for recognized holidays; the number of vacation days employees are entitled to depending on the length of time they have been employed; the number of sick days; the number of personal days (if applicable); conflict of interest policy; confidentiality policy; definition of probationary period (often refers to the first 6 months of employment); annual performance assessment policy; and discussion of grounds for the employee being placed on probation and eventual dismissal, when applicable.

The articulation of policies and practices protect both the employer and the employee. The employer has clearly articulated the agency’s approach to issues and the practices it has endorsed governing the employment of the professional and administrative staff. In this way, the organization’s expectations of the professional demeanor and behavior of the employees is known to both the staff members and their superiors.

The employees whose professional performance is within the acceptable to superlative range should have an understanding of the expectations for their continued employment and growth within the organization. When they fulfill their responsibilities then it leads to a very productive and fruitful relationship between employer and employee. However if the employee is unable to fulfill the minimal requirements of the position the employer has the guidelines for dealing with such an unfortunate situation. In this instance, the employee’s rights are clearly stated and the person is aware of what recourse is available within the framework of the agency. For example, when the yearly performance appraisal is implemented then the employee is not surprised if they are dismissed following a due process involving a supervisor and possibly the Director of Human Resources or the agency’s executive in a smaller organization.

When the agency’s procedures are not clearly articulated in the form of a personnel code and there is no due process, this is unfortunate for both the employer and the employee. Unfortunately this is all but too common in many organizations, and even those organizations with personnel codes are occasionally lax in the implementation of polices governing their employer-employee relations. It behooves non-profit organizations to regular review both their personnel polices and how they are implemented in the agency. This will strengthen both their relationships with their employees and their credibility due to the transparency when reported to the board of directors.

Clearly articulated personnel policies strengthen the organization from within and insures the staff feels their best interest is being protected by equitable practices. Given the non-profit organization represents the values of its leadership to the community it is imperative that its employees are treated in a way consistent with the highest Jewish values as well as the highest level of personnel practices. This will simultaneously speak loudly for the credibility of the organization within the community and strengthen the staff’s commitment to the organization.

Stephen G. Donshik, D.S.W., is a lecturer at Hebrew University’s International Leadership and Philanthropy Program and has a consulting firm focused on strengthening non-profit organizations and their leadership for tomorrow. Stephen is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.