A volunteer is an individual who offers their services free of charge to assist an organisation. Volunteers, in the employment sense of the word, do not receive any monetary or other tangible reward for carrying out work on behalf of a company, and likewise there is no obligation to carry out any work placed upon them.
So, if you are looking to use volunteers within your company, or already have individuals volunteering, it is important to the remember the following points:
- Volunteers do not have the same rights as employees or workers. An employee is an individual who has a contract of employment or written statement of particulars which:
- gives the individual certain statutory and contractual employment rights
- means there will be an exchange of something of material value
- means the employer has an obligation to provide work to the individual and the employee has an obligation to perform the work for the employer.
Note, the classification of “worker” in this text refers to those individuals who are not employees of the company they are working for but potentially temporary workers and working on a contract for services. Volunteers are unable to bring claims of unfair dismissal (providing that they have been not been treated as an employee).
- Disciplinary and Grievance Policies and Procedures cannot be used. Good practice would see companies having in place policies and procedures for their volunteers which are informal in nature, to mirror their informal relationship with the volunteer. This means that no obligation can be placed on the volunteer to abide to a formal structure or process.
- You have legal responsibilities in respect of Data Protection and Health and Safety.
- You must speak to your insurers. Make them aware that you have or are going to have volunteers in the workplace. This will help to ensure that you are covered for any claims that a volunteer may bring for an injury in the workplace, or that may be brought against the company due to the action of a volunteer.
- There is no upper age limit on volunteering. However, your insurers may not cover a volunteer who is under the age of 16, or over a certain age (usually 80).
- You must only pay out of pocket expenses. For example, “Sarah receives £30 a week from the organisation she is volunteering at, to cover her travel expenses between her home and the company premises. However, Sarah cycles or walks to work as she only lives 2 miles away and so therefore she is not actually incurring any travel costs. In the eyes of the law with this example, Sarah would not be considered a volunteer, but an employee instead. However, if for example another volunteer (we’ll call her Melissa) was asked to travel by bus to attend a company event, and the bus fare was reimbursed by the company upon presentation of a relevant receipt, then Melissa would be viewed as a volunteer.
- Any training given must only be directly associated to a volunteer’s duties and ability to carry out their role as a volunteer. Otherwise you may be seen as awarding the volunteer with something of monetary value, which will make them an employee in the eyes of the law.
- A volunteer must not be issued with a job description. You can however issue a volunteer with a ‘volunteer role description’. This will be seen as good practice as you will be providing the volunteer with an understanding of their role as a volunteer and your expectations.
So, considering all of the above, best practice would be to put into place a volunteer agreement. This is a great tool for setting out the nature of a company’s relationship with a volunteer. The document must state that it is “binding in honour only” and there should be not a requirement placed on the volunteer to sign the document for this reason. They can of course voluntarily sign the document if they so wish. The volunteer agreement should only talk about ‘expectations’ and ‘intentions’, rather than an employment contract which talks about ‘requirements and obligations’. Within this volunteer document you can also:
- detail expenses reimbursements and the fact that only out of pocket expenses will be reimbursed upon presentation of a satisfactory receipt.
- provide information regarding the process to follow if a volunteer has a complaint (remember – this is not the grievance procedure.)
- provide information regarding the process the company will follow if there is a problem of some kind with the volunteer (remember this is not the disciplinary procedure.)
- give details of the Company’s policies and procedures in relation to such matters as Data Protection and Health and Safety.
If you would like to purchase a volunteer agreement template or have a query about volunteers in the workplace, please do give us a call on 01305 831706 or send us an email on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disclaimer: The content of this webpage is for information only and is not intended to be construed as legal advice and should not be treated as a substitute for specific advice. Rely Ltd accepts no responsibility for the content of any third party website to which this webpage refers.