Do Association Boards Have a Role in HR?



There is great disparity in how association boards are involved in human resource management. The spectrum ranges from the board having no role in HR (including policy) to the board having a standing personnel committee, with a thousand variations in between. But what should the board's role be in HR? This week's blog outlines key considerations to inform association policy and practice. 

The board's role in human resources management falls in several key areas: 


Association boards are responsible for hiring a chief staff executive with the knowledge, skills, and abilities to do that job. As such, policies and practices related to that function are the purview of the board. 

Some associations have board members sit on hiring committees. This is not a recommended practice as it can create confusion about board and staff roles. Associations should only do this at the behest of the chief staff executive with clearly articulated boundaries and roles in place. 


The board is responsible for ensuring the appropriate use of association assets. As such, boards should approve a compensation plan that aligns with association values and strategy. This may include things like where association compensation and benefits will fall related to industry peers and competitors. It does not include line-item review or approval of staff compensation and benefits, except that of the chief staff executive. 


While layoff of employees is a management decision, the board should be made aware of the decision and the financial circumstances that warrant it.


Ensuring that association workplace practices are legal and minimize risk are board responsibilities. This does not mean that boards need to be involved in the minutiae, but it does mean that their duty of obedience requires they ensure appropriate policies and practices are in place.  

The board should concern itself with ensuring that workplace policies are current and minimize risk - and that the chief staff executive is seeing that these policies are implemented with fidelity. The board should not concern itself with workplace policy administration or enforcement. 

Performance Evaluation

The board's role in performance evaluation is limited to evaluating the chief staff executive's performance. This responsibility may extend to ensuring the chief staff executive has a legal performance evaluation system in place for employees that is being administered consistently. It does not include first-hand involvement by the board in employee performance evaluation. 

Whistleblower and Grievance

Every association should have a whistleblower policy in place that allows individuals to voice concerns to a designated individual or board member over potential unethical or illegal activity in a confidential manner. It is the board's responsibility to adopt such a policy. 

Employee grievance procedures are generally detailed in an employee handbook and are the purview of the chief staff executive. Some boards opt to establish a policy that details the procedure for steps an employee may take when they've exhausted the process outlined in the employee handbook. This is most common in small staff associations in which the handbook policy has staff reporting to the chief staff executive. 

Values and Alignment

In general, the board has a responsibility to ensure that the association's human resource management policies are consistent with the values the organization espouses. While this may seem like common sense, it's worth reflection. And this extends to the association's advocacy platform. Association policy must demonstrate the association's commitments, whatever they may be, e.g., attracting top talent, diversity and inclusion, living wage, fiscal responsibility, employee wellness, etc.

It's clear the board has an appropriate and necessary role in association human resource management. That role is contained within the governance domain and should not bleed into operations. Association leaders may find these resources on the topic helpful: