All work and no pay: Volunteering law

If your organisation or charity benefits from the assistance of volunteers, you’ll know how gratefully received their help can be. Giving up their time and effort to work for you, volunteers can gain experience and personal gratification – but without pay, they are not classed as employees or workers.

Badly worded volunteer agreements can inadvertently turn your volunteer into a worker – which would give them entitlements such as minimum wage, paid holiday, sick pay, and protection from unlawful discrimination or into an employee, with even greater rights including family friendly leave such as maternity. The denial of these rights could then land you in an employment tribunal, or a civil court.

What does your business need to do to avoid unwittingly breaking employment law and regulations?

  1. Do not put in place a contract between the volunteer and the charity which could indicate the volunteer is, in reality, an employee or a worker. A contract doesn’t have to be written down in order to exist – it simply needs ‘consideration’ (exchanging something of material value, e.g. work and salary), and ‘intention’ (that both parties intend to enter into a legally binding contract). Also ensure that there is no ‘mutuality of obligation’ – where the charity is under no obligation to offer work to the volunteer, and importantly, no obligation on the volunteer to accept the work offered.
  2. However, you can put a volunteer agreement in place – a document which sets out the relationship between both parties and acts as a reference point for the standards which should be met in all dealings – but this is not mandatory. Words are powerful, so watch out – make sure you call it a ‘volunteer agreement’ rather than ‘contract’, use terminology like ‘volunteer role description’ in place of ‘job description’, and say ‘reimbursement’ rather than ‘payment’
  3. Avoid workplace procedures such as holiday booking forms, disciplinary and absence procedures, as these ring true of a paid employee. Keep the basis of your arrangement voluntary and casual
  4. Depending on the nature of your organisation, training can be important for volunteers. You can provide or organise the training, but ensure that it is relevant to the volunteer’s role and is open to all volunteers who might do the same work – otherwise it could be considered a ‘benefit in kind’, or perk of employment
  5. Whilst volunteers are not employed by you, by carrying out activities on your behalf or being present on your property as volunteers makes them a little different to the general public, too. Having the right liability insurance in place can protect both you and your volunteers in the event of any incident which occurs in the line of volunteering

For a free review of your charity’s insurances, contact the Chartered brokers at Hine Insurance on 0161 438 0000.

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