Setting up a staff forum by Harry Sherrard, Principal of Sherrards Employment Law Solicitors
High on most employees’ wish list is better communication from the employer. An effective way of achieving this, and which also enables effective engagement with the workforce, is to set up a staff forum.
There are no strict rules about how to do this, and employers and employee representatives can create a structure that best fits the organisation.
It is advisable to set up a process whereby staff representatives are elected by the workforce, with a common sense distribution of representatives according to functions and locations. Elections should be by way of secret ballot, which can be managed through an email account. Candidates to become elected representatives can, within reason, campaign to their fellow employees, promoting their election to the forum.
Importantly, the constitution of the forum must set out the objectives of the forum, and the subject matter that will be discussed. A fundamental decision needs to be taken as to whether the forum will discuss pay. Larger employers may have across-the-board pay reviews, determined by profitability and other factors. So the organisation needs to decide whether consideration of annual pay reviews will be factored into forum business or not.
Certain subjects are recommended to be excluded from forum discussions, for example, individual disciplinary or grievance matters. Whilst proposed redundancies will most likely form part of normal forum business, an exclusion needs to be made in respect of the individual personal circumstances of employees under redundancy consultation.
The forum rules should state that the employer and the representatives will engage in a dialogue in good faith, and that representatives will be given appropriate opportunities to reflect on information provided by the employer, and seek the views of the employees whom they represent, before providing feedback.
Meetings will most likely be held once every three months, with a provision for extraordinary meetings if required. To ensure efficiency and structure, the forum rules should provide for an agenda being distributed to employee representatives at least 48 hours before the meeting. Likewise, employee representative questions should be submitted to the chair of the forum at least 48 hours before the meeting.
Typically staff representatives will be elected for a term of three years, after which they normally stand down, although provision can be made for serving two consecutive terms of office. Provision may be made for representatives to obtain external training to support the role.
How confidential information is to be handled is an important consideration for inclusion in the forum constitution. It is possible that the employer may occasionally provide information confidentially to employee representatives, and the employer should reserve the right to establish that the information must not be discussed or disclosed to any other person, including other employees, until the employer has permitted this.
Finally, and also in the interests of good communication and engagement, an intranet may be set up to support the forum, enabling employees to see minutes of meetings, forthcoming agendas and other information about the operation of the forum.