Volunteer Agreement – Taking on Volunteers

Many organisations use the services of a volunteer and many people volunteer their time for a variety of reasons, perhaps for the experience, or the flexibility, or maybe for the simple reward of personal satisfaction.

A volunteer has a different status from that of an employee or worker. They have no real employment rights when compared to an employee or worker; indeed their rights are limited to being safe at work (i.e. a risk assessment must be performed by the host organisation).

It is important that any volunteer agreement is worded in such a way so that it is clear that it is not intended to create a contract of employment. However, please note that employment contracts can be verbal only and, irrespective of any written agreement, the circumstances and dealings between the parties may take things further and give rise to a contract.

In order to avoid the risk of creating an employment contract with volunteers, volunteer agreements shall not set out the duties and obligations of the parties but shall only provide a framework for setting out the ‘reasonable expectations’ of the parties. If the agreement places obligations upon the volunteers there is a risk that the document creates a contractual relationship between the parties and amounts to a contract of employment. Furthermore, it is important that organisations avoid giving volunteers income and reduce perks that could be seen as ‘consideration’. In other words, volunteers should only be reimbursed for actual out-of-pocket expenses only as any sum over actual expenses may be regarded as a consideration, no matter how small it is, which could create a contract of employment.

Volunteers are generally excluded from the National Minimum Wage and receive only basic expenses. Expenses don’t count as wages as they’re repayment for costs incurred through volunteering. Normally expenses will be limited to money for travel, food and drink, as well as repayments for things that volunteers have had to buy in order to carry out the work. If a volunteer receives any other payment or benefit in kind for volunteering, they might be considered as consideration and the volunteer may be classed as in a contractual relationship like an ‘employee’ or a ‘worker’. Furthermore, even benefits which are necessary for the volunteer to carry out their work, such as training, can be problematic if they’re understood in such a way so as to suggest an obligation on the part of the volunteer.

In summary, a volunteer might be classified as an employee if obligations are placed on them and/or if they get certain kinds of benefits in the role. For example if they:

  • receive training that’s not directly relevant to the voluntary work; and/or
  • receive a fixed regular amount for expenses that is more than they spend.

Volunteers have the same rights under the Data Protection Act as employees. This means that organisations must comply with rules on personal data about volunteers and that they can’t process any of this data without permission.

Finally, it is important to note that people under 14 years of age cannot volunteer for a profit-making organization.

A Volunteer Agreement helps both the organisation and its volunteers by making expectations clear. If you are looking for a volunteer agreement template please see: Volunteer Agreement.