Legal Aspects of Volunteering
The law does not recognise volunteers, and therefore they are not covered by
the same protections as paid staff. However, whilst volunteers do not have
many legal rights, it is important to avoid practices that could be seen as
unfair or discriminatory.
It is important that volunteers are treated differently to staff to ensure they do
not become entitled to legal protection offered to paid employees. For this
reason organisations should avoid situations where:
Volunteers receive income, financial or otherwise, in return for work.
This can include non-essential training and unreasonable expenses.
Volunteers receive perks as part of their volunteering role.
Obligations such as strict time commitments are placed on volunteers
and sanctions are introduced. In most situations it is fine to outline
‘reasonable expectations’ and state that volunteers are free to leave at
Contractual language is used – such as the words ‘contract’ , ‘job’, and
‘payment’ (rather than ‘agreement’, ‘volunteer role’ and ‘expenses’).
Legal Aspects that Organisations Need to Consider
All volunteer-involving organisations should have an insurance policy that
covers their volunteers
All organisations should carry out written risk assessments to identify possible
hazards in volunteering opportunities
Volunteers who receive state benefits (such as Job Seekers Allowance)
should notify their Benefits Agency before beginning their volunteering.
People claiming benefits are allowed to volunteer so long as they do not
make a profit and are available to take up an offer of employment.
Organisations have a legal responsibility to ensure the safety of staff,
volunteers and service users. If volunteers are supporting children or
vulnerable adults they may be asked to undertake a Criminal Records Bureau
disclosure. Other things to cxonsider in terms of safeguarding include:
Induction and training
Day to day practice
Culture and attitudes