HR and people

HR basics for co-operatives

This section aims to give you an understanding of the key areas you will need to consider around HR. If you are new to employing people it is important to understand what your obligations are as an employer.

Below is a short film giving an overview of the 'basics' of HR when setting up and running a co-operatively run business or organisation. Please read on for vital areas you will need to consider when you employ people. In addition, we have sections with more detailed advice covering specific aspects of HR:

Recruitment and selection

Recruiting the right people, with the right skills, is crucial for running a successful business. Your recruitment process should be fair and transparent and focussed on getting the right person for the job. Be careful not to discriminate and treat all candidates fairly. 

Employment contract

When you’ve made your selection, it is a good idea to provide a written job offer. You should also provide a written employment contract. Employees are entitled to be provided with written details of their main terms and conditions.

Co-operatives UK has created a model employment contract and related policies. For more about this and ways Co-operatives UK can support your co-op in this area, read the advice pages or contact us.

Pre-employment checks

Before employment starts, you must check that the person you want to employ has the right to work in the UK. Employers can be fined up to £20,000 where they employ someone who is working illegally in the UK. 

If your new recruit will be working with children or vulnerable adults on a regular basis, you may also need to request a DBS criminal records check.

Induction and Staff Handbook

When your new employee starts work, it is good practice to provide them with an induction. This will help them to settle into the workplace and give them a feel for your business, brand, culture and values.

It is a good idea to put together a staff handbook containing information needed to carry out the job, details about your co-operative and key company policies and procedures.


You must pay at least the National Minimum Wage. Within the next few years, all employers must automatically enrol workers in a workplace pension scheme.

You’ll need a payroll system to pay staff and operate PAYE. Employers deduct National Insurance and Income Tax from final take home pay and pay them to HM Revenues and Customs on behalf of the employee. You may also need to pay employer’s National Insurance Contributions. Often small employers outsource their payroll to other providers, for example may accountants who can help you with your financial affairs can also assist with payroll.

It is compulsory to provide employees with payslips.

HR files and confidential data

You will receive a lot of confidential data about your staff. You must make sure that you keep these records secure and don’t pass on the information to any third party without consent.

Holidays and time off work

All employees are entitled to at least 28 days of paid holiday leave each year. (This should be pro-rata for part-time employees).

Employees might also need to take time off at short notice to deal with emergencies at home or because of a bereavement but you won’t need to pay them for this leave unless you choose to.

You may need to pay employees sick pay if they are too unwell to work. Watch our video on managing sickness absence for more information on sickness and sick pay.

There are specific rights to time off and pay for parents – watch our short video on family-friendly rights for more information. 

Health and Safety

Employers are responsible for their employee’s health and safety. Your co-operative should carry out a risk assessment of potential dangers within the workplace. Make sure that you have employer’s liability insurance in place.

Equality within the workplace

Employees and job applicants are protected from discrimination on the basis of their age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy & maternity, race, religion & belief, sex and sexual orientation. Employers are also required to make reasonable adjustments for employees and job applicants who have a disability and are disadvantaged by a feature of the workplace, recruitment process or employment practice. What is reasonable depends on the circumstances.


You must tell your employees how they can raise a complaint about their work or working conditions and have a fair procedure in place for dealing with it. There is more information on dealing with grievances.

Ending employment

You must give your employees at least one week’s notice for each year that they have been employed by you (up to a maximum of 12 weeks) if you intend to dismiss them. It is also important that you follow a fair procedure when dismissing employees. See our grievances and ending employment for more information.

Useful external resources:

Employing staff -

Data Protection -

Health & Safety -

In this section

Recruitment and resourcing • Family friendly rights • Dealing with sickness absence • Grievances and ending employment • Performance management

Members of Co-operatives UK can access HR Support to help with recruitment and all aspects of managing your people via our Contact Package or for specific HR needs our HR Package.

Co-operatives UK Contact Package: Get the support you need

From governance to HR and from membership to finance, our Contact package has been developed to service your needs. It offers phone, email and face-to-face access to our expert advisers - including advice through DWF LLP.

As a centre of excellence for co-operative governance, we are here to provide the answers that matter to you. Information will be provided in the most appropriate manner, covering anything from AGM protocol to the election of directors and from employment contracts to tax implications for member dividends.

To find out more about the Co-operatives UK Contact Package, please visit

Co-operatives UK HR Package: Delivering HR expertise for your co‑operative

Because people are at the heart of a successful co-operative business, Co-operatives UK offers a specialist HR service designed specifically for co-operatives. We offer:

  • Co-operative HR expertise: in HR law, policy, reward and benefits
  • A high quality service: we're not for profit which means all our income goes into developing market leading services for subscribers
  • Value for money: we deliver HR services to subscribers with a cumulative total of over 100,000 employees a scale which produces both high-quality and high-value for our subscribers

To find out more about the Co-operatives UK HR Package, please visit

HR training

Co-operatives UK offers one-day training, including an essential HR course – find out more.

Updated: 26/03/2019