Employment Law for Students' Unions

Students' Unions are in the unique position of operating under the confines of charity law as well as the Education Act 1994.  While some Universities, and consequently Students’ Unions, continue to thrive, some are facing declining numbers, which leaves many Students’ Unions now facing the prospect of reconsidering their staffing budgets, undertaking redundancy processes or even potentially restructuring.  These issues are often a complex area of Employment Law that must be dealt with delicately and here at Warner Goodman LLP we have extensive understanding of the legal matters in the education and charity sectors, but also specifically Students’ Unions.

Challenges faced by Students’ Unions

Students’ Unions are unique institutions with their own particular needs and requirements. Operating as a charity within the education sector can prove difficult, as you need to balance the objectives you are aiming to achieve whilst also maintaining financial restraint and crucially maintaining compliance with the Charities Act.  There is also the scrutiny of how funds are not only spent, but how they are secured for the future. 

The unconventional staffing structure of Students’ Unions can also create issues as the combination of elected Sabbatical Officers and hired Chief Executives is unlike most other workplaces. 

As Sabbatical Officers generally only serve for one or two years before they are then replaced, we’re aware that the frequent change of staff can take the Union in different directions in regards to priorities, policies, politics and agendas, leading to instability.  As these officers come from the student body, they can be inexperienced but ambitious individuals who have unrealistic expectations of what they are able to achieve given budgetary considerations. 

Our experience with Students’ Unions

We have been acting for various Students' Unions for over thirty years and over that time have gained substantial experience and built a proven track record of successfully dealing with the particular issues that they face, learning to adapt our advice and tailor our guidance to suit the specific needs of that particular Students’ Union.  In the past we have advised multiple Students’ Unions on matters such as:

  • Disciplinary matters
  • Misuse of funding
  • Managing sickness absence
  • Sexual harassment cases
  • Redundancy processes
  • Restructuring. 

During our time working with Students’ Unions we have had to advise on the following specific issues:

  • Students tabling a vote of no confidence in the Sabbatical Officers or the Chief Executive
  • Sabbatical Officers' use of social media and how it reflects on the Union
  • The question of who has the deciding vote, the President or the Chief Executive, when a split decision occurs during voting processes
  • Sabbatical Officers seeking to remove the Chief Executive and the procedures that must be followed
  • Evolution into corporate organisations and the restructure associated with that change
  • Leadership transition of General Manager to Chief Executive.

How we can support Students’ Unions

Our Employment team has over fifty years of combined experience practising Employment Law, with over thirty years of that time spent actively assisting Students' Unions.  Sarah Whitemore, one of the two Partners in the team, has built an extensive network within the Students’ Union sector since joining with the firm.

Over the years, we have found that our Peace of Mind package provides the most beneficial support to Students' Unions, and we already have a number of Students’ Unions, as well as other charities, as members.

By joining our Peace of Mind package, we will make sure that you are always up-to-date with the most recent changes in the world of Employment Law.  Through the service, we will conduct a review of all your staff policies, handbooks and employment contracts and we can also arrange the more complex contract clauses such as restrictive covenants, confidentiality agreements and settlement agreements.  As a member of Peace of Mind, we will also:

  • Review policies so that there are robust procedures providing a framework for action,
  • Improve confidence through training and access to resources and support, 
  • Improve confidence in tackling issues and gaining better outcomes, and 
  • Provide strategic advice to managers to help guide them through delicate situations.

You will also be assigned a dedicated Solicitor, who will be directly contactable through telephone or email, and will be able to advise you on any matters you may have using advice tailored to suit your organisation's ethos and needs.  You can receive all of these benefits for a fixed price for the year, meaning you can manage your budgets accordingly and never worry about overspending. 

In addition to our Peace of Mind membership, our Employment team can also offer you external HR support to assist you with a variety of processes such as:

If you would like to discuss Peace of Mind in more detail please contact the team on 023 8071 7446, email peaceofmind@warnergoodman.co.uk. You can also find out more about our External HR service by calling 023 8071 7447 or emailing natashayoung@warnergoodman.co.uk. Alternatively, if you would like to speak to a member of the Employment team, you can email them at employment@warnergoodman.co.uk.


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