Kingston Smith

Do you employ volunteers? Technically, no one does!

Volunteers give up their time to support not for profit organisations like yours and are often a vital resource that charities rely heavily on. But you don’t employ them.

A recent Supreme Court case, where two volunteer lifeboat-crew members were stood down, has thrown up issues around the treatment of volunteers. The volunteers had exchanged compromising pictures that had caused offence. A formal complaint had been made and the volunteers were judged to have breached the RNLI’s code of conduct, hence being stood down.

Despite them being volunteers, a national newspaper reported them as being ‘sacked’. It’s this difference in terminology that can cause confusion over how volunteers are treated differently from employees.

Drawing the line
Some organisations may be tempted to treat volunteers more leniently than they would their employees. However, some organisations go to the opposite extreme and are stricter with their volunteers. This is because they have been let down by volunteers previously, which has negatively affected their service.

Regardless of how strict or lenient you are with your volunteers, there should be a certain expectation for them to adhere to the same standards of conduct and behaviour that is expected of your organisation’s employees.

Some tips for managing volunteers
Begin at the outset when you engage with them. Clearly define their role and responsibilities and have them sign a written volunteer agreement. Ensure they have read and understood your organisation’s employee handbook, specifically around acceptable conduct and behaviour, as a minimum.

Be careful not to get confused between how you treat your employees and your volunteers. We have seen some organisations give higher expenses reimbursement to their volunteers than to their employees. This could be labelled a benefit in kind, which risks your volunteers being deemed workers. It has also been known to negatively affect employee morale.

How should you differentiate between your volunteers and your employees in real life?
Anything you give to your volunteers should only be given in order for them to sufficiently perform their duties. This includes genuine out-of-pocket expenses, uniforms/equipment, if needed, and any training you consider necessary.

Generally, you should treat them in exactly the same way when it comes to managing conduct and behaviour. But be wary of anything that could call their status into question, resulting in them being classed as workers.