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Any volunteers? Their rights and employer responsibilities

07 Mar 2018

A volunteer is anyone who carries out unpaid work for a charity, fundraising body or voluntary organisation. If you hire volunteers to work for your organisation, there are a number of potential pitfalls and legal issues – see our guidance below to avoid any problems…

Do voluntary workers have a contract?

As volunteers are not usually classed as workers or employees they are not engaged under a contract of employment. However, most organisations will provide volunteers with a written ‘Volunteer Agreement’ to set out the arrangements between the parties. This should also set out details of the organisation’s insurance cover, their equal opportunities policy, and any health and safety issues.

The agreement should also outline any training volunteers will receive, and any expenses that will be covered, as well as the level of support and supervision volunteers can expect to receive in their role, and how any disputes will be resolved. Although a volunteer agreement is not compulsory it can help the volunteer understand the terms of the relationship and reduce the risk of a volunteer claiming that they are a worker or an employee.

However, the agreement must be carefully drafted as there are examples where a volunteer agreement has been found to create a contract of employment. This may be the case, for example, where an agreement sets out minimum requirements in terms of times and lengths of volunteering or contains unhelpful clauses in respect expenses and training. The risk of volunteers claiming employment status (and potential additional employment rights) could be potentially costly and we would therefore recommend seeking advice from our Employment Team on the drafting of a volunteer agreement or reviewing your existing agreement.


What expenses can volunteers be paid?

True volunteers are excluded from the National Minimum Wage requirements but can still be paid reasonable expenses such as the cost of travel, meals at work, etc. They may also be offered training, but it’s important to note that offering paid training that is not relevant to their volunteering role could be seen as remuneration and may mean they are classed as a worker or employee. Offering other expenses, for example subsidised or free childcare at times when they are not volunteering could also mean they will be classed as an employee or worker, rather than as a volunteer and therefore should be avoided.

Expenses should be limited to out of pocket expense only and should be reimbursed on the provision of valid receipts. The risk if volunteers receive any other payment, benefit or reward is that they may be classed as a worker or employee and therefore be entitled to the national minimum wage. This could also apply if the organisation has promised them paid work in future.

What are your responsibilities?

Organisations remain bound by certain legal responsibilities in respect of volunteers.  For example, organisations with volunteers must have professional indemnity cover in place to provide cover if a volunteer becomes injured or if a claim is brought against you because of the actions of a voluntary worker.

Volunteer workers also remain covered by health and safety legislation and organisations must also protect personal data and only process data of a sensitive nature with the volunteer’s consent. Click here for more information on data processing and the upcoming GDPR.

For more information on how we can help your business, or if you have any queries relating to this, or any other employment law matter, please contact Sarah Hall or call 0191 232 8345.