Keeping Your Volunteers Legal

VCS's Volunteering Development Manager, Pat Stanley, has 15 years' experience training in the voluntary sector and advising organisations in developing Good Practice in Volunteer Management, Here, she asks some important questions of those managing volunteers. 


What’s the legal definition of volunteering? – Well, the simple answer is that there isn’t one, and perhaps that is part of the challenge of managing volunteers. The legalities surrounding volunteers has always been a grey area, but recently the boundaries between paid staff and volunteers have been getting even greyer.

An organisation’s relationship with its volunteers is special, as it isn’t bound up in employment law and is instead a reciprocal arrangement of give and take. Voluntary organisations and Local Authorities alike are under pressure to fill the gaps left by spending cuts and are increasingly viewing volunteers as the answer to their problems.

The challenge with relying on volunteers to deliver outcomes is that - without meaning to - it is easy for an organisation to sour the relationship with its volunteers by demanding too much of them whilst giving little back, or even to let the relationship drift into what may look like employment, and this can have serious consequences for your organisation.

So, here are a few questions for your organisation to consider:

  • Do your staff and volunteers essentially do the same tasks?
  • Do you find you have changing expectations of what it's reasonable for volunteers to be asked to do?
  • Do you use the same procedures for volunteers as you do for your paid staff?  
  • Do you pay your volunteers’ out-of-pocket expenses?

If, having answered those questions, you’re now unsure whether your organisation is keeping its volunteers legal, why not book your place on our workshop on 26th April, when we’ll take a look at the key things you can do to stay on the right side of the law? We’ll also examine historic cases that volunteers have brought to court and their implications for managing volunteers today. The workshop was heavily oversubscribed the first time we ran it, so be sure to book your place soon!