How should an employer manage volunteers?

Thu 1st Jun 2017

During Volunteers’ Week, Coodes Solicitors Employment lawyer Philip Sayers highlights some of the considerations and pitfalls for managing volunteers.

Volunteers make a huge contribution, not just to charities but to public sector organisations and businesses. Spending time as an unpaid intern is now a common way to get work experience after leaving education or when considering a career change. While volunteering can provide mutual benefits, there are some considerations that employers should be aware of.

Understand the difference between a volunteer, a worker and an employee

It is important that employers understand the difference between a staff and volunteers. If people are genuinely only working for expenses incurred and are not obliged to work particular hours they should be classed as volunteers. This means they are not entitled to bring unfair dismissal claims, or to receive holiday pay or statutory sick pay.

There are many examples of organisations who have deemed people to be volunteers but then had Employment Tribunals decide they are instead either employees or have worker status. This is usually because they are paid more than just to cover pocket expenses, such as travel to work. If the organisation purports to require the volunteer to work particular hours that will strongly point towards a binding contract and the person not being just a volunteer.

The Government has some useful guidance to help you assess if an intern is a volunteer, worker or employee.

Ensure you are set up to manage volunteers

Organisations need to ensure they are set up to manage volunteers and that they reduce the risk of creating a legally binding contract with volunteer:

  • Avoid any payments that could be construed as wages (e.g. payment that goes beyond expenses)
  • Ensure the volunteer can refuse tasks and choose when to work. Avoid placing obligations on volunteers
  • A carefully worded volunteer agreement is different from an employment contract but should set out the understanding on both sides
  • Treat volunteers fairly and have clear procedures for dealing with problems and grievances
  • Ensure you have public liability insurance which covers volunteers in the premises.

While many individuals and organisations benefit from volunteering, it is important to understand the differences between an employee and volunteer. The line between the two can be surprisingly blurred.

For more information on this or any Employment enquiries contact Philip Sayers, Employment team, Coodes Solicitors on 01872 246200 or

Thu 1st Jun 2017

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