What Employment Rights Do You Have as a Volunteer?

01 June 2017

Volunteering can be a great way to gain new skills, experience and opportunities. But what employment rights do you have as a volunteer?

Unfortunately as a volunteer your employment rights will be limited.

What is a Volunteer?

Sometimes it can be clear whether you are a volunteer, but in some instances the definition can be blurred and you can actually be legally seen as a worker or employee. The simplest definition of a volunteer is someone who agrees to do work for no payment and has no obligation to continue working (save as to what is expressed in any voluntary agreement).

However, if someone is paid for their work, is under a significant degree of control by the organisation, or if an obligation exists to do work for the organisation (for payment), that person may have employment rights as a worker or employee.

Employment Rights

Your starting point should therefore be to determine your legal employment status, as the employment rights available differ between volunteers, employees and workers.

If it is established that you are a volunteer, you will have the following rights:

  • Protection of your data: Under the Data Protection Act 1998, volunteers have rights in respect of their personal data. The organisation you volunteer for must ensure it complies with the 8 Data Protection Principles which include the duty to keep personal data up to date, and the duty to ensure that data is only processed in accordance with lawful purposes.
  • Your health and safety: The organisation you are volunteering for has a duty to ensure those affected by their activities are safe from risks to their health and safety. You are entitled to risk assessments if your organisation also employs employees, however if the organisation only has volunteers then there is no legal duty for health and safety risk assessments to be carried out. You should ensure you have been told about the health and safety information and that this is accessible to you.

As a volunteer, you will not have the following rights:

  • Protection from discrimination: The Supreme Court held in 2012 that volunteers were not protected by the Equality Act 2010 in their position as a volunteer. It was considered by the Supreme Court that in order to be protected at work by the equality legislation, it is likely you would require to be party to a contract. A ‘volunteer agreement’ is not generally considered to be a contract for these purposes, however the exact nature of the obligations would be examined by the Court or Employment Tribunal. It has also been considered that people on unpaid vocational training courses or interns may have some protection.
  • National Minimum Wage: When carrying out work as a volunteer, you will not normally be eligible under the National Minimum Wage Act 1998. But if you receive a type of remuneration then this may mean you are actually an employee and therefore entitled to more employment rights

The organisation for which you are volunteering for will have the following rights:

  • Criminal record checks: An organisation is entitled to know the relevant criminal record of a prospective volunteer and may even be under a duty to find out before agreeing to accept a volunteer. The organisation may therefore obtain information from the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS).

The first step to finding out your employment rights is to understand your employment status. If you are unsure about whether you are an employee, worker or volunteer we can help you.

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