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Evolving employment contract law, political activities and charities

Learn why you need to review your contracts and advocacy practices with Not-for-Profit PolicyPro

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Updated April 7, 2016

Co-author: Fred Stewart

As an Executive Director, there are many different areas that need your attention on a daily basis: strategic direction, fundraising, stakeholder engagement, employee and volunteer management, media relations and grant applications, just to name a few.

With all of these factors to manage, keeping up with changes in legal compliance and CRA requirements may not be perceived as a top priority. However, failing to pay attention to compliance can leave your organization vulnerable to the risk of financial penalties and have a negative impact on your reputation.

I want to highlight a couple of recent issues you may want to consider.

All non-profit organizations with employees should be aware of how employment contract law has changed recently. Employers of all types and sizes will want to understand how the changes affect them, what to review in their contracts and how to update them without breaking the law.

All commercial contracts should receive the same level of care to avoid risk to your finances and reputation. You can read more below.

Also, with the updated rules on political activities for registered charities, you’ll have to be extra careful if any of your organization’s activities might be construed as partisan.

Registered charities and political activities

If you direct or work for a charity, you’re probably aware of the Canada Revenue Agency’s changes to public advocacy rules. One of the highlights is new penalties for charities that exceed the limits on political activities or that fail to provide complete and accurate information on their annual return.

In 2013–2014, the CRA also increased its charity monitoring and enforcement efforts. The agency conducted 845 audits and issued 36 notices to revoke charitable status. In 2014–15, the CRA conducted fewer audits (781), but issued more notices to revoke (45).

Jeffrey Sherman wrote in depth about the rule changes in 2014:

An organization established for a political purpose cannot be a registered charity.

However, the definition of “political purpose” is not always so clear. It can include seeking to oppose or change the law, policy or decision of any level of government in Canada or a foreign country.

The CRA says:

A charity may not take part in a partisan political activity. A partisan political activity is one that involves direct or indirect support of, or opposition to, any political party or candidate for public office.

The message for charities is clear: you must assess whether your activities are political, understand the rules around partisan activities, and—most importantly—report on any political activities to the CRA on your annual Registered Charity Information Return (T3010).

Read Jeffrey’s article, “What is the CRA policy on political advocacy activities carried out by registered charities?” for details.

Employment contract law has changed

Recent court decisions have changed how the law applies to employment contracts, most importantly terminations, but also off-duty conduct, consideration and restrictive covenants. All types of organization need to appreciate the value of an enforceable contract.

In light of these changes, and the increased risk of financial and reputational damage, employers should review their employment contracts.

In “Contract administration – beyond the handshake agreement,” Jeffrey writes:

Unfortunately, it is not unusual for not-for-profit organizations to find they have entered into a contractual relationship that did not receive the required level of oversight, discussion and approval. Such contracts dramatically increase the risk of harm to your organization.

His recommendation?

Clear language, carefully outlining the specific terms of a contract is essential.

In short, organizations must understand the agreements they enter. Read Jeffrey’s post for more on reducing the risk of bad contracts.

Non-profit and charity compliance are more than just “nice to haves”

Unfortunately, many directors do not consider staying up-to-date with compliance laws and best practices a priority until it is too late and an issue has surfaced. An organization that fully understands its legal obligations and complies with them protects its reputation, finances, directors and stakeholders from many risks.

But in order to do that in the proper manner, expert help is usually required.

What kind of expert help?

Jeffrey Sherman is the author of Not-for-Profit PolicyPro®, co-published by First Reference and CPA Canada. Twenty-year non-profit veteran Apolone Gentles JD, CPA, CGA, FCCA, writes the quarterly updates.

Try Not-for-profit PolicyPro free for 30 days to review your advocacy activities and contracts.

Not-for-Profit PolicyPro® contains clear and current commentary on legal compliance and non-profit best practice, along with dozens of ready-to-use policies, procedures and forms. This essential resource will help assure that you and your board fulfil all of your compliance requirements, from governance, financial management and corporate administration, to advocacy, public policy and human resources.

You can try it free for 30 days!

As an added bonus, not-for-profit organizations receive 20% off when they subscribe. Best of all, you can start your free 30-day trial today with no commitment!

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Adam Gorley

Editor at First Reference
Adam Gorley, B.A. (Phil.), is a researcher, content provider and editor. He contributes regularly to First Reference Talks and Internal Control blogs, HRinfodesk and other First Reference publications. His areas of focus include broad human resources issues, corporate social responsibility, corporate governance and government policies, information technology and labour market trends.Read more
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