A volunteer’s eye view of … volunteers’ rights #tuneintuesdays

 

 

 

Much of the recommended volunteer management guidance focusses around good practice rather than legal requirements and ensuring you have these good practice measures in place helps minimise risk to both your organisation and the volunteers who support you.

Do volunteers have rights?

A few years ago the Volunteer Managers Network in Dudley were asked to write a Volunteering Compact to work across Dudley borough and we felt it was important to create a Volunteer Charter, which outlined both a volunteer’s rights and their responsibilities to the organisations they supported. This, we felt, would form the basis of a volunteer management programme for any volunteer-involving group.  To help I have marked where the various ‘rights’ and ‘responsibilities’ are good practice or a legal requirement.

Volunteers’ Rights

Law

Good Practice

To be given a clear idea of their tasks and responsibilities within the organisation.  

yes

To be given the name of someone in the organisation who will look after their interests and who will offer them appropriate support, and supervision on a regular basis.  

yes

To be assured that any information shared with the organisation is kept confidential. [Data Protection]

yes

 
To be given the same protection under health & safety regulations and public liability as paid employees.   [Health and Safety]

yes

 
To be offered opportunities for training and skills development, appropriate for the voluntary tasks involved.   yes
To have a complementary relationship with paid staff, who should be fully aware of the role and responsibilities of a volunteer.   yes
To have access i.e. through volunteer meetings etc., and to play a part in the decision-making process of the organisation/project.  

yes

To be informed about the agency’s policies relevant to the volunteer i.e. health & safety, grievance and disciplinary procedures.  

yes

To be provided with appropriate equipment, tools and materials associated to their tasks.   yes
Volunteers may join a trade union relevant to the work in which they are involved. NUPE, MSF and UNISON currently welcome volunteers into their membership.   yes
To be supported when things go wrong and to be encouraged to learn from their mistakes or difficulties.  

yes

Volunteers should not: –    
˜  Be used to replace paid workers [if they do so they may have employment rights]

yes

yes

˜  Have unfair demands made on their time  

yes

˜  Be asked to do something which is against their principles or beliefs   yes
˜  Be subject to any discrimination e.g. on the basis of race, sexuality, age, gender   yes
˜  Be out of pocket through undertaking voluntary work – travel and other expenses should be reimbursed   yes

Volunteers’ Responsibilities

   
To support and embrace the organisation’s aims and objectives.   yes
To do what is reasonably requested of them, to the best of their ability.   yes
To recognise the right of the organisation to expect quality of service from all its volunteers.   yes
To recognise that they represent the organisation and therefore need to act in an appropriate manner at all times.   yes
To honour any commitment made to the best of their abilities, notifying the organisation in good time should they be unable to keep that commitment e.g. for holidays.   yes
To be willing to undertake appropriate training with respect to health & safety issues, insurance liability and general good practice as necessary for the voluntary work undertaken. [volunteers need to understand they are responsible for their own health and safety and to raise any health and safety issues they observe with the appropriate person] yes yes
To abide by any relevant policies and procedures.   yes
To offer suggestions for changes/improvements in working practices to the Volunteer Co-ordinator/Project Officer.   yes

 

When it goes wrong …

Good practice procedures around volunteer involvement are essential and should cover all elements of involving volunteers.  If a volunteer feels unfairly treated and the organisation does not have robust, transparent procedures in place to deal with problem solving around their volunteers, they may be tempted to attempt to go to an employment tribunal.

“I’ve been volunteering for XXXX for three years and receive a set sum every week for expenses to make sure that I am not out of pocket.  We also receive this when we do not come in due to being not well or away on holidays with our families.  I had to commit to work 12 hours per week as a ‘volunteer’ and receive £25 per week (subsequently increased to £40) ‘to cover expenses’.  When I became pregnant I was dismissed.  I have taken the organisation to court to claim sex discrimination and unfair dismissal due to sex.”

So has this volunteer been treated unfairly?  The tribunal had to decide whether she was working under a contract of employment in order to claim unfair dismissal. It’s quite clear that the organisation had unwittingly created an employment contract, so she was in fact considered an employee by the fact that she received a fixed payment for volunteering, which was even paid when she was on holiday or off sick, plus she was volunteering for a fixed commitment of 12 hours per week. She thus had rights to claim unfair dismissal.

 “Myself and the other volunteers sign a written agreement and we are expected to attend monthly meetings and induction training. There is no minimum time commitment by volunteers and XXXX reimburse actual out of pocket expenses only. We claim we are employees.”

What do you think about this grievance? Do the volunteers have employment rights?  In this case they don’t for the following reasons:

  1. “expected to attend” – means there is no obligation on the part of the volunteer to attend if they do not wish to
  2. “no minimum time commitment” – the volunteers are not signed up to volunteer for a fixed amount of time per week
  3. “reimburse actual out of pocket expenses only” – there are no fixed amounts

The organisation is clearly very careful to ensure they have good practice in place around involving volunteers, so do not create an employment contract with their volunteers.

Please don’t forget if you need any help or support I’m happy to help and that’s what I’m here for 🙂  Just contact me on eileen@dudleycvs.org.uk

2 thoughts on “A volunteer’s eye view of … volunteers’ rights #tuneintuesdays

  1. Thanks so much for this great post and excellent examples of legal rights versus good practices. Having an understanding of policies and legal implications can save us from lawsuits and also demonstrate to the volunteers that we take their commitments seriously and want to protect them.

    Like

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