Sunday, July 28, 2019

Arts Employee Rights and Written Policies

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on..............."

I have in the past written about the lack of policies for various things in the arts, or more specifically, written polices.  Policies are not laws or regulations.  There is no enforcement provision.  Policies are broad recommendations in a given area, around which there is widespread consensus that certain perceptions ought to govern our actions.  Policies are aspirational, but should also be intentionally practical.  Policies state the framework and often include the standards for action in a given area; guidelines for all to adhere to and follow.

Written policies encourage action and clarify and codify shared objectives and common ground.

Thus, the arts policy on arts education might be:
We support the inclusion of K-12, sequential, standards based, arts education in music, dance, theater and visual arts, taught by professionally trained teachers, for all students in all areas of America.   We urge all school districts to support and enable the foregoing minimum goal.

An area in which many organizations do not have a formal, written  policy (such as embodied in an Employee Handbook) is in the area of Employee Rights.  I wonder how many arts organizations have an Employee Handbook embodying the organization's policies on all employee matters.

What might the arts policy towards employee rights include?

Such a written policy might address the following areas:

1.  Safety:  On the easy (to agree on) side, such a policy would include provision of a safe workplace for all employees - free from harassment and discrimination of any kind, including provision for a bias free organizational culture that promotes inclusion, and which proactively addresses systemic racism and inequality, and free of any hazards of a danger to employees.

2.  Support:  A purposefully supportive and encouraging environment, wherein all employees feel enabled and encouraged to excel.  Under this banner, we might include respect for the dignity of employees.  This might also include provision of professional training opportunities available to all employees on a fair and equitable basis.

3.  Equality:  Should our organizations provide equal pay for equal work, independent of age, gender or other qualifying category?   Should our organizations provide that any benefit provided to some employees, would need to be provided to all employees?  If there is a distinction between management employees and rank and file, what is that distinction and how is it manifested?

4.  Compensation and Benefits:  Should our organizations provide a minimum wage?  What about interns?  Should they be paid a minimum?  Should that minimum wage for full time employees be a living wage - defined as sufficient enough to cover minimal living expenses of room, food, transportation, et. al. for the cost of living of a given area?  (So someone working in Silicon Valley or New York City would need greater revenue that someone living in Fresno or Buffalo).  But can small and mid-sized arts organizations afford such a suggested requirement?  What would have to change to make that a reality?   Should all arts organization employees be provided a minimal level of health insurance?  Is that affordable?  What about retirement benefits or contributions by the employer?  Is that possible?

What about overtime work - which in our field is generally the norm.  Should there be a provision requiring some additional compensation for work over and above some demarcation line?  What about flexible time?  What about vacations and days off?  What about sick leave?  Childbirth leave?  Bereavement leave?  There are all kinds of questions about employee compensation.  I am wondering how some arts organization may have tried to address these issues within the context of how we, as arts organizations, function and exist.

At this point, it's becoming clear that given the cash flow of most arts organizations, an ideal employee rights policy in the area of compensation might be a Utopian reach.  In that case how might the employee rights policy towards compensation be written?

5.  Employee termination:  Should there be a formal process for terminating employees, and what rights would employees have in such cases as to process or decision?  What about a grievance policy - including process and procedure?

6.  Career Trajectory:  Inclusion of performance reviews; availability of advice and counsel in career matters; issues of promotion and advancement; issues of privacy protection.

These aren't all of the issues that pertain to employees of an arts organization by any means.  Any consideration and discussion of how to embody the rights (and obligations) of employees might start with the above, and expand from this point.

Employee handbook templates are available free online, and for many organizations that might be a good starting off point to consider all the issues that are at play for employees of arts organizations.  But with, or without, that starting point, it is, I think, advisable for every arts organization to have an internal discussion about all these issues.  Clear understanding of how the organization treats any of these issues is important in fostering the best relationship between those who work for the organization and the organization itself.  Transparency is key.  Having considered all the issues that might arise, before they do, can save time, resources, money and problems in the future.

I think it's also important for the sector as a whole to go through his kind of exercise and discussion. and try to arrive at some minimal consensus as to what kind of employee policies we want to endorse and recommend in general.  A policy that embraces one set of values, or rejects another, says a lot about that sector and its respect for those who work within it.

IMHO, employee rights and relations is an area that needs a written policy - for each organization and for the whole sector.  

Have a good week.

Don't Quit