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Charities – how to treat your volunteers

In 2011, a Court of Appeal held that a volunteer working for a charity could not pursue a claim under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 because she did not have a contract and didn’t qualify as an employee.  Although the case was in relation to disability discrimination, the principles apply to all other areas of discrimination.

Time for charities with volunteers to breathe a sigh of relief.  Or is it?  Charities who have volunteers must ensure that they are getting the relationship right, both in terms of the legal description and the practicalities of how volunteers work.

Key points to get right are as follows:

No expectations

To ensure that the arrangement is genuinely that of a volunteer choosing to work, the charity cannot place expectations on the volunteer.  The volunteer is free to work and/or provide their services when they see fit.  In practical terms, this means that the charity should consult volunteers for their availability and willingness to work instead of producing a work schedule without consultation.

No payment

It is essential that volunteers are not paid for their time.  As far as expenses are concerned, payment should only be made for genuine out-of-pocket expenses, ideally supported by receipts, and not based on a flat-rate weekly or monthly allowance.

No unfair treatment

Although the courts have said that volunteers do not have employment rights, the question remains as to why any volunteer would feel the need to bring a case in the first place.  Although volunteers are not employees, that does not mean that they should be discriminated against or that they should suffer unfair treatment.

Claims and employment relationships

If a volunteer can prove that they do in fact have an employment relationship with the charity then any Employment Tribunal claim may be valid and will be properly investigated. To avoid such claims, charities must ensure that they treat volunteers, not as employees, but as human beings with all the respect and fairness they deserve.

For advice and support on how best to recruit, manage and look after your volunteers, get in touch with us on 01487 815720.

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