Don’t make volunteers employees by accident.
If you run a charity, school or other ‘not-for-profit’ organisation you’ll rely on a stream of enthusiastic volunteers to support your organisation’s endeavours. Of course you’ll also have ‘normal’ full time or part time staff with written employment contracts and monthly salaries. The volunteers are volunteers, the staff are staff and never the twain shall meet. CLANG! Did you drop something?
If you treat your volunteers as staff (whether you know it or not) you could unwittingly be establishing your volunteers as staff with full employment rights! This could be a real headache if one or more of your volunteers has a grievance. The issue is whether or not there is a contract exists between you and the volunteer - and in English law a contract doesn’t have to be a written piece of paper or a verbal agreement.
On the ground
The status of a particular worker has been contested in the courts countless times and it often turns on what is actually happening on the shop floor, rather than what any document might say. A volunteer is giving his time and expertise to an organisation, but what are they expecting to get back? If there is no formal, written ‘volunteer agreement’ you run the real risk of those flexible and free resources becoming something entirely different. For example:
• Do you give volunteers a lunch allowance or do you reimburse their receipts?
• How do you discipline a volunteer who behaves in an unprofessional, fraudulent or discriminatory way. Do you follow the disciplinary policy in the staff handbook?
• Must a volunteer turn up at the agreed shift, or is it only that you hope they will turn up?
Treating volunteers like employees can make them employees. So if you have given them a contract, provide expenses, give then the same disciplinary procedures or appraisals as normal staff you creating a whole team of new employees and obligations. Help! You’ve created a monster!
What to do now
The solution of course is to have a well drafted ‘volunteer agreement’ to set out responsibilities, relationships and liabilities so there can be no doubt what the relationship is whatever happens on the ground. Properly drafted volunteer agreements can save unnecessary time, stress and costs to your organisation.