Key points you need to know about your relationship with employees and volunteers
6 November 2017 by Neemah Ahamed
Charities engage employees and volunteers. As a charity, you need to be cautious about the way you interact with volunteers so they are not construed to be employees in the event of any dispute. It is important to know what your obligations are towards volunteers and what they are entitled to receive. It is advisable to have separate agreements and policies in place to govern your relationship with volunteers. These issues are highlighted below.
- Documents: The relationship between your employee and the charity will be governed by an employment contract which sets out the rights and obligations of the parties. However, the wording in documents relating to volunteers would be different and should be specific to the nature of association you have with them. It should be evident from the language that volunteers are not obliged to work. For instance:
- Documents relating to your arrangement with them should be referred to as “an agreement” not “contract”;
- The nature of assistance they provide should be referred to as a “role” not “job description”; and
- When setting out what you would like volunteers to do refer to this as “expectations” and “intentions” not requirements.
- Policies: Most charities have a handbook in place for employees. It is important to have separate policies for volunteers. These should include:
- A Grievance Policy: which explains complaints will be handled by a volunteer co-ordinator with a right of appeal to the Chief Executive/Trustees;
- A Compensation Policy: which clarifies volunteers will not be entitled to any remuneration or benefits of a tangible value. They will, however, be entitled to receive out of office expenses they incur on submission of receipts;
- An Intellectual Property Policy: which confirms all intellectual property rights of original work produced by volunteers shall always be transferred to the charity; and
- A Health and Safety Policy: which affirms volunteers will work in a safe environment where levels of risk have been reduced to a minimum AND risk assessments will be carried out for any roles that might cause harm.
- Legal responsibilities:
- Health and Safety: With or without a written policy, you have a duty of care to protect your employees and volunteers from harm arising from their activities.
- General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR): Begin to make preparations on how you will comply with your obligations under GDPR which will come into force in May 2018. Update your policy and procedures about how personal data belonging to employees/volunteers will be handled.
- Employment Law claims: Employees are able to bring a cause of action on grounds such as unfair dismissal (if they have been working there for more than 2 years), wrongful dismissal and constructive dismissal. Provided there are separate agreements and policies in place to deal with volunteers and they cannot be construed as employees, volunteers cannot bring claims for wrongful or unfair dismissal.
- Discrimination: Unlike employees, volunteers are not protected in the same way as employees are by anti-discrimination law as there is no formal contractual relationship that governs your engagement with them. They cannot usually bring a claim for discrimination, unless they are able to successfully argue their agreement can be interpreted as an employee contract. However, they may have protection in the County Courts under the goods & services provisions of the Equality Act 2010. For instance, your charity may be regarded as offering a “service” by offering opportunities for volunteering. In such instances, there are separate protections under Part 3 of the Equality Act 2010.
- Health and Safety: Both employees and volunteers may bring a claim for personal injury if they are injured whilst carrying out their role.
- Insurance: It would be advisable to obtain an insurance cover and notify the insurance company that volunteers and employees present at your organisation. Review the policy to check it covers actions both brought by and against the volunteers and employees.
If you would like policies to be reviewed and updated or require specific advice regarding your obligations to your employees or volunteers please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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