Beware – Your volunteers could actually be Employees

2nd June 2017

VolunteerWith charities and not for profit organisations continued to suffer funding pressure it would be easy and amazing if volunteers came along and offered their services for nothing, wouldn’t it?

Relying on volunteers has been the mainstay of a lot of organisations but you could inadvertently be falling foul of the law. If you find you’re managing volunteers you need to be aware of the risks when volunteers are potentially viewed as employees within your organisation.

With volunteers week 1st- 7th June fully on the go you may be looking for a new influx of helpers. Ensuring you comply with the appropriate employment laws (which obviously differ between full time paid staff and volunteers), whilst ensuring fairness within your organisation should be a priority.

Both the NCVO and Government provide advice on the matter but for payroll anything that could be seen as a payment for work can trip you up.

You obviously don’t give payments for a person’s time as a volunteer, but you may pay money to cover expenses. In most cases this is limited to food, drink, travel or any equipment they need whilst volunteering for you. Paying expenses should be a genuine reimbursement of out-of-pocket expenses rather than a fixed amount per week.

The Government indicates that ‘you might be classed as an employee or worker rather than a volunteer if you get any other payment, reward or benefit in kind. This includes any promise of a contract or paid work in the future.’

So, you may have volunteers that travel to a regular place as part of their volunteering and get a fixed weekly/ monthly amount for those travel expenses. If, however, one of the volunteers gets the expenses but actually walks there that could count as a contract of employment, and as such they could be eligible for the minimum wage.

Getting volunteers can often be a lifeline for organisations. Ensuring they’re used within employment law boundaries should be established before they start their volunteering work.