Volunteers’ Rights: Top Tips for Employers


20 Feb 2018


Many organisations rely on the support of volunteers to deliver their activities.

Whether you’re the boss of a not-for-profit organisation which needs volunteer support to help you fundraise, or you’re a leader of a big commercial organisation that relies on volunteers to help with events – you need to handle volunteering correctly. Here are a few areas of advice to ensure your volunteers don’t stray into the territory of being paid workers or employees.

What Rights Do Volunteers Have?

Volunteers don’t have a contract of employment, so they don’t have the same rights as an employee or worker. As an employer you should give all volunteers an agreement that explains:

  • The level of supervision and support they’ll get
  • What training they’ll receive
  • Whether they’re covered under your organisation’s employer or public liability insurance
  • Health and safety issues
  • Any expenses your organisation will cover

A volunteer agreement isn’t compulsory, but sets out what the volunteer can expect from your organisation. It does not form a contract between you and the volunteer.

Pay and Expenses

You should never pay a volunteer for their time, but you can pay expenses. Expenses are usually limited to food, drink, travel or any equipment they need to buy. It’s very important that you don’t pay a volunteer for their work. This is because they may become classed as an employee or worker rather than a volunteer if they receive any other payment, reward or benefit in kind. This includes any promise of a contract or paid work in the future. Employees and workers get certain employment rights like receiving the minimum wage.

Are There Any Age Limits?

There’s no upper age limit on volunteering. However, some organisations’ insurance policies don’t cover volunteers if they’re under 16 or over a certain age (usually 80). Volunteers can’t work for a profit-making organisation if they’re under 14, even if they’re not paid. Check with your local councils, as they might have extra rules about the work volunteers can do as a young person. For example, a person might not be able to volunteer at a charity shop if the council decides that it’s a profit-making organisation.

Can Every Volunteer Claim Benefits?

Volunteers can claim benefits if:

  • The only money they get from volunteering is to cover expenses, like travel costs
  • They continue to meet the conditions of the benefit they get

Criminal Records and Volunteering

If a person has a criminal record they can still volunteer in most roles, depending on their offences. If you are an employer who is looking for volunteers to work with children or vulnerable adults, you will need to carry out a Disclosure and Barring Service check.

Expert Support

If you need advice and support with volunteering, as well as ensuring the right employment contracts are in place for your workers and employees, then Croner’s experts can help. For employment law support from an HR pioneer with over 75 years’ experience call 01455 858 132.

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