Charities in particular can be vulnerable to employment claims as there is often a reluctance to formalise working relationships with volunteers. If a volunteer feels aggrieved they may try to assert that they have the status to bring a claim and without documentation formalising working arrangements charities are vulnerable to this.
There has been much reported case law around the employment status of workers. The golden goose is employment rights of course. The second limb is workers and finally there are those that are self-employed but who are obliged to personally perform the work. This third category had protection from discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. Workers have this and additional rights such as holiday pay, national minimum wage and working time benefits. Employees have all of these and more including the right to claim unfair dismissal.
There have been a number of cases involving the status of those working for charities and whether they are volunteers, workers or employees including cases against the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, Reserve Forces and Cadets, HM Coast Guard and the Migrant Advisory Service. No charity is immune to such claims. The first step is for the volunteer to show that they have a contract with the organisation (remember contracts can be oral) by showing there was an intention to create legal relations, an offer and acceptance and consideration. Once they have established this, it is necessary to determine whether they are a worker, employee or in the third category. A Tribunal will look at the written documentation but also look at the reality of the situation.
Labelling someone as a volunteer is not sufficient they need to show appropriate boundaries between their volunteers and any employees. There are a number of steps a charity can take in this regard to help protect themselves from liabilities. The first is to have a volunteer agreement in place making clear it is not a legally binding contract setting out rights and obligations but rather sets out hopes and aspirations. Volunteers should give their time freely and not be under an obligation to undertake certain hours or days and no sanctions should be applied if they do not fulfil those days. Charities should take care to only reimburse expenses actually incurred rather than paying volunteers a flat rate to cover incidentals. They should also differentiate between employees and volunteers by only making its employees subject to the disciplinary for conduct issues and instead telling volunteers their services are no longer required. Charities should also avoid giving volunteers benefits which could be seen as a substitute for salary.
Remembering of course that volunteering is not only immensely rewarding for those that volunteer but also without volunteers much of the good work of charities and other organisations could not be done.