Because volunteer workers do not have a contract of employment as such they do not have the same kind of employment rights as an ordinary employee would be entitled to. This does not, however, mean that you could be exploited and in certain areas, you would still be protected.
Instead of an employment contract, you would normally be given some form of volunteer policy similar to a job description, which is usually called a ‘volunteer agreement’. In terms of legislation, and things you should know, however, the information below is important to anybody who is intending to become a volunteer.
Health & Safety
As almost every charitable organisation or other company or institution is going to have at least one employee on staff, it is therefore subject to government health and safety legislation and, as such, you as a volunteer can expect the same level of commitment to your own health and safety as would any staff employee. Your own role too would be covered by risk assessment and action that might be needed to be carried out as a result of that must be taken in line with the legislation in place.
Expenses, Pay & Training
As you are undertaking a ‘voluntary’ job, you are excluded from the National Minimum Wage regulations. Any expenses that are agreed are not considered a substitute for a ‘wage’ as such. They are simply to repay you for any costs such as travel, meals and, in some cases, accommodation that you have met yourself, i.e. expenses which you wouldn’t have incurred had you not been volunteering.
You might also be offered training. The important things to remember here are that you are not automatically entitled to receive expenses and training and, although most organisations will pay for expenses and some will also offer training, you need to ensure that you have checked this out first and that it forms part of your voluntary agreement or you could well end up being out of pocket for your efforts. It’s also important that you don’t unwittingly accept more money in expenses than it costs to cover the actual expenditure you’ve made as a result of being on duty. This is especially relevant if you are receiving state benefits as it can affect those.
Many voluntary organisations will offer volunteer work to children although the law limits what children under 16 years old can participate in. For example, if you are under 14, you are not allowed to offer your services, whether paid or unpaid, to a profit-making organisation.
Your Voluntary Agreement
In addition to some of the points covered above, your voluntary agreement should state what level of supervision and support you’ll get, how any disputes will be resolved and details of the organisation’s insurance cover and equal opportunities policy.
As a volunteer, you have exactly the same rights as a member of staff when it comes to data protection legislation.
Overseas volunteers outside the EEA (European Economic Area) do not have any special dispensation to come to the UK to become a voluntary worker. The Government do operate certain concessions but it’s important to find this out before you simply come to the UK to take up a voluntary position because you will be contravening UK immigration laws if you do not have the correct paperwork. As with any employment issues, if, as a volunteer, you do have an issue with the work you are doing, you can seek advice from ACAS.
So, be sure that you know your rights and that you have obtained a volunteer agreement which you are happy with before you start working as a volunteer.
I am wondering about the use of volunteer contracts as opposed to volunteer agreements in some organizations.
I am also wondering about the use of minimum periods of commitment along with the use of being charged a fee for leaving before that time. This is not to cover training as the organisation did not offer any training other than the requirement to read their induction manual and watch their video.
The contract simply states that if you leave before the period has expired then a fee will be due. It doesn't say what the fee is for other than leaving early?
The legal advice received was that they can put whatever they like in a contract however itis my opinion that volunteers should not incur a debt for leaving a voluntary role.
Any comments would be appreciated.
kimbosweetpea - 4-Nov-23 @ 10:45 AM
My daughter has Been volunteering for a company for about 2 and half years or 3 years. At first this was paid maternity cover, when this finished she started volunteering with always the promise off paid employment, or even on the kick start program. She would volunteer sometimes 10 days in a row, she covered all the holidays that staff had to take after lock down, she even volunteered through the last lockdown. Now all of a sudden today she was asked to leave and cannot volunteer anymore. No reason given. Is there anything she could do.
Debsc - 9-Apr-21 @ 12:28 PM
I’ve been volunteering for this company for 12 years, in April I was notified I was suspended, no explanation just it would be looked at again in June, this notification was sent to me when I was shielding and the company know I suffer from depression, is there a limit on the time they can take to do an investigation
Daz - 24-Sep-20 @ 2:23 PM
I have been working 16hrs a month for charity for 4yrs I have also been volunteering
20 hrs a week for the same company. They now say I can’t volunteer anymore even though I have been doing this as assistant manager then manager. Is this law now as they have said it is a new law
Vicster - 17-Jul-20 @ 5:06 PM
I have been playing the organ at my church for over 20 years on a voluntary basis for Sunday services.During that time, I have also played for weddings and funerals, for which I am paid by the funeral directors/individuals.Last year, without informing me, the minister contacted the local funeral directors and told them I was no longer to be asked to play for funerals. In addition, another funeral director was informed by the minister that I would not want to be paid for a funeral where I had already been asked by the bereaved person to play, without any prior discussion with me.When I raised the question of payment with the funeral director (who had informed the bereaved person that they would 'sort it out', when asked who would pay the organist), I was provided with a cheque from the church funds.Is such action legal?I have suffered loss of earnings through this, but been given no reason for it, despite many letters and emails.
Kev - 16-Jan-20 @ 11:53 AM
I volunteer a few hours on a couple of Sundays each month. The organisation have told me that I MUST attend compulsory training for four days mid-week, expecting me to take time off work.
Is this against the Modern Slavery Act (Sect 1(B))?
Spider - 30-Oct-19 @ 3:15 PM
I do unpaid voluntary work in a charity shop. Can the charity
make demands that i wear a name badge only I find this
arry - 2-Oct-19 @ 10:31 PM
If a volunteer supplies a charity with a photo to use in its fundraising campaign does the charity then own that photo and therefore the copyright?
Jolly - 2-Jun-19 @ 11:46 PM
I m an interpreter,as a volunteer worker was on the working place called BAWSO in Wrexham.I m verbally abused by one of the African worker when I was trying to translate the Turkish family what to do.This woman jumped on me and started screaming and stopped me helping the clients.
Did ask everybody for help to warn that woman who abused me plus other 2 more workers one of them was manager of the place and another one who weren’t even volunteer in the place was nasty towards me.
Emailed text all around and didn’t get usefull person to help...
It’s not fair on who was trying to do good things ...
Well not even get human rights so why should bother helping others who needs help!!!
People who acts working as a sister groub in their own community needs to be warned...need to change system about it...
Seb - 1-May-19 @ 12:20 PM
I volunteer at a local food pantry. One day when I was combing name lists. I was talking to another volunteer saying we needed an update list due to the fact there were names on the list that appeared 2 to 4 times with different numbers of family members and when we ask who someone is then have to go through it 2 to 4 times to get the right number some people were getting mad having to do this every week. This other volunteer started to argue with me about how the list works and such. Also some people who comes regularly names were off the list for no reason. Well once the day was over this volunteer went home called the executive director crying saying I was so ride to her and such. I got told I was suspended from there because I need a break, I was rude, I do too much, but I could come back. I was never given a time frame. So after about 2 months I contacted the executive director and asked if I could come back she said I have to talk to the board, but I think it won't be any time soon. About 2 or 3 weeks later they had a board meeting and they talked and voted on my return. Well some said I was rude, lazy, which is not me at all. Two other volunteers said they would quit if I came back so I am still out. I couldn't even defend myself. Is there anything that can be done?
Magneto - 8-Nov-18 @ 2:37 PM
Daughter volunteering in vets as part of uni course. Expected to do 36 hours a week. Rarely got any breaks. Only 5mins here and there to grab a sandwich. Ended up doing 72 hours a week as told if she didnt they would sack her. After weeks & being exhausted she complained to her uni head who contacted them. They changed the hours on the live time sheets to make it look like she was lieing re 72 hour weeks. They have now taken on a second student whos starting her 1st year course as daughter moving into 2nd year. Had a staff meeting yesterday to discuss what they woild be doing for her/buying for her to help with 2nd year. Brought her in to office today & told her due to taking on extra staff they had no time for her anymore and she could go. Owner said she never really liked her or working with her as reason. She now has to give up uni course as cant continue without placement. I feel the timing of this speaks volumes as all placements are now filled with new students & this is about her speaking up re ridiculous hours. What can she do?
Firefox - 23-Aug-18 @ 11:55 AM
I have been a volunteer tour guide for three years on a regular day and was exposed and witnessed in an open area of,the building to a staff member being suspended. . This was a very distressing scene and upset me very much.I was then approached by the management team who had done the suspension and because I was upset scared and angry made it very clear to them without being abusive that i was aware of the legal implications of this suspension and that as a volunteers I did not know any of these staff and did not like them.Since then a complaint has been lodged against me by this manager and I now face a disciplinary meeting as they have made me aware that I am not the type of volunteer they want or appreciate.Feeling extremely upset about the whole thingbut I want to stay as a volunteer but feeling that I am now going to be pushed out because I witnessed this suspension which caused me great distress. This distress has not been recognised by this organisation. Any advice on this matter would be appreciated.
Patty - 23-Jun-18 @ 4:08 AM
My daughter works in a cafe which trains people with learning disabilities, it's unpaid, She's been there for about a year. The cafe (a charity) now wants trainees to pay £13 an hour for this training. They have recently taken on paid apprentices. Can they charge voluntary trainees for training provided to paid apprentices?
Nixxie - 23-Mar-18 @ 7:21 PM
Can I be dismissed from my position as a volunteer for making an accident claim against the company for an accident in the workplace?
shell - 22-Mar-18 @ 9:05 AM
jack - Your Question:
Friend of a friend question here.I know somebody who runs a charity shop.they have a volunteer who has managed to annoy a number of the other volunteers to the point where they have left, she is inflexible regarding start/finish times, and to be frank, a number of the customers wont deal with her.her conversational subjects that she raises with both staff and customers are not suitable for the business yet the manager doesn't think she can be dismissed.your comments would be useful.
Assuming the charity runs its operations correctly and its volunteers are indeed volunteers (i.e they receive absolutely no payment or benefits), they can just say they no longer need her. Or ask her to do different work (behind the scenes etc).
VoluntaryWorker - 15-Nov-17 @ 9:55 AM
friend of a friend question here.
I know somebody who runs a charity shop.
they have a volunteer who has managed to annoy a number of the other volunteers to the point where they have left, she is inflexible regarding start/finish times, and to be frank, a number of the customers wont deal with her.
her conversational subjects that she raises with both staff and customers are not suitable for the business yet the manager doesn't think she can be dismissed.
your comments would be useful...
jack - 14-Nov-17 @ 6:17 AM
ElectricWarrior - Your Question:
A young man of 18 who is known to me through work has been working as a volunteer in a garage servicing vehicles hoping to gain experience in this trade, he walks 5 miles to and from work 3 or 4 days per week as he cannot afford the bus fares, his 'employer' refuses to pay his transport costs or any other out of pocket expenses, he has been doing this for over six months in the hope of being taken on as an employee, it is clear to me that this is not going to happen while the young man is prepared to work for nothing and that he is carrying out work for which someone would normally be paid, he has had little in the way of formal training. I believe he is being exploited as a free labour source and will never be given a proper job by his 'employer', what evidence would the young man need to show to prove that he has been a de facto employee for over six months now ?
Do you workat the same garage? If so, perhaps you would be willing to provide him a reference. Our advice to the young man would be to document everything he has done and what he has learnt, then speak to someone at JobcentrePlus about what is needed to find paid work in the sector. He may be also able to take an NVQ/city n guilds type qualification - which he should sail through with the experience he's gained. He shouldn't continue working with this employer under the present conditions though.
VoluntaryWorker - 31-Oct-17 @ 3:50 PM
A young man of 18 who is known to me through work has been working as a volunteer in a garage servicing vehicles hoping to gain experience in this trade, he walks 5 miles to and from work 3 or 4 days per week as he cannot afford the bus fares, his 'employer' refuses to pay his transport costs or any other out of pocket expenses, he has been doing this for over six months in the hope of being taken on as an employee, it is clear to me that this is not going to happen while the young man is prepared to work for nothing and that he is carrying out work for which someone would normally be paid, he has had little in the way of formal training. I believe he is being exploited as a free labour source and will never be given a proper job by his 'employer', what evidence would the young man need to show to prove that he has been a de facto employee for over six months now?
ElectricWarrior - 30-Oct-17 @ 10:31 PM
Weepoo - Your Question:
I work as a volunteer in a charity shop and am often left alone for a number of hours. Is this legal?
Yes please see the above article and the reponses to comments below.
VoluntaryWorker - 14-Aug-17 @ 2:39 PM
I work as a volunteer in a charity shop and am often left alone for a number of hours. Is this legal?
Weepoo - 12-Aug-17 @ 3:22 PM
Hi all, first time I've ever volunteered for anything as I've always worked many hours. But due heart attack was forced to retire early. I soon got bored and found the perfect solution, apply to be a community first responder for the ambulance service, I applied, got accepted, completed training, got allocated to a nearby group and very shortly found the group to be (clicky) so to say, funds were low, I was keen to start responding in my rural area, got involved with events to raise money for kit and defibrillator but this was taking time, asked if I could buy my own kit to help the progress. Certainly, great. First month 140 hours volunteering loved it. Got one person back to life with training, all the time tho in pain and fatigue due to a problem that was under investigation, due to fatigue and Meds I was losing concentration, got caught speeding on camera 3 time just over the limit and was suspended from responding in my car, I handed my kit in including my defibrillator I paid for and said it may as well get used whilst I appeal on convictions, but soon after my condition got worse and started suffering angina attacks, I am awaiting heart treatment to clear further blockages but at high risk of another heart attack, I've asked my scheme and Team for my defibrillator to be returned as I may need it or the wife need to use it on me and after being ignored by our team leader on the issue posted a comment on our members only site and had nothing but abuse from quess what. The Click, I've heard the opinion on other team mates as there are 22, the click is around 4. And anonymously the team totally disagree with the click. As I could die at anytime with a cardiac arrest and not got the vital piece of kit that I own, I'm taking to the top as I have made the group quite a bit of money for buying kits etc, I ask my parish council were I've lived all my life to help funding and they have just donated £500 to our scheme. I've done nothing wrong towards the group, what is the problem with some people, what should I do next ? I'm considering a solicitors letter, as the driving issue that's still ongoing appeal but I'm not driving now due to my health conditions, it's a shame a small group of people can manipulate a group of volunteers to a fantastic cause, some advice soon would be very much appreciated, thank you for your time reading this. I hope it's not to long..
On one - 30-Apr-17 @ 2:10 AM
I volunteered for an organisation about two years ago, I loved doing this and gained some good skills and knowledge from the experience which was fab.
Due to my home life commitments I had to give up my time with the organisation.
I have recently given this organisation as a reference source to potential employers, I had worked hard for them and thought I had made a big contribution to the charity and the people I had advocatedfor in the community.
It seems the organisation is unwilling to give me a reference and they won't tell me why this is the case. Is there anyway I canofficially request a reason for them not giving me a reference ?
LJ - 2-Mar-17 @ 9:44 AM
I work as a voluenteer, my manager requests I work between 8:30-3:30pm is this fair? There has been occasions where I have been a few minutes late through no fault of my own and pulled for it by my manager, what are my rights here?
Danny - 15-Jan-17 @ 5:21 PM
Are volunteers exempt from whistleblowing policies? I have been told I cannot whistleblow as a volunteer.
Mimi - 21-Sep-16 @ 8:11 PM
FRED - Your Question:
Been a volunteer for 13 months and challenged the (paid) Manager about certain things mainly policies. including one he made and failed to follow it. Because I challenged him again. He let me continue the shift and allowed me to go in the following shift. Then on the Monday basically sacked me over the phone. To top it off he sent a reference in for a event I wanted to attend, which they put me on the roster. He then sent them an e-mail and they sent me one back saying they had withdrawn my application.What can I do ?I was really enjoying myself, making new friends and helping the community.I believe he felt that I was a threat to his job, which I'm not intrested in.
Do you have a volunteer agreement that details what the procedures are for dismissal etc? Have these been followed correctly?
VoluntaryWorker - 18-Jul-16 @ 12:12 PM
Been a volunteer for 13 months and challenged the (paid) Manager about certain things mainly policies.. including one he made and failed to follow it.. Because I challenged him again.. He let me continue the shift and allowed me to go in the following shift. Then on the Monday basically sacked me over the phone.. To top it off he sent a reference in for a event I wanted to attend, which they put me on the roster. He then sent them an e-mail and they sent me one back saying they had withdrawn my application..
What can I do ?
I was really enjoying myself, making new friends and helping the community.
I believe he felt that I was a threat to his job, which I'm not intrested in.
FRED - 17-Jul-16 @ 12:22 AM
My son has been volunteering for the RSPB for about 8 years as he is unable to find paid work. He thoroughly enjoyed this work and has gained a lot of experience through this. He has worked very hard for them and was always there to help them through hard times, i.e. the floods. But today at the end of the day they just told him they don't want him there any more as there is nothing more they can do for him. I would like to know if and what are his rights.
Mary - 20-Jan-16 @ 9:50 PM
@Dave. An interesting question. Volunteer.org.uk says the following: "While volunteers are not included in employment legislation, a small number of volunteers have in the past managed to demonstrate that they were in fact employed in the eyes of the law. This means that they would have access to some or all employment rights." You can read more here .
VoluntaryWorker - 29-Oct-14 @ 2:42 PM
A friend who has worked for a charity shop for six years has just been dismissed for making a mistake and is devastated. Where can I find information on the rights of a volunteer worker with respect to the process of being "dismissed" please?