What is a volunteer?
Volunteering England defines volunteering as 'an activity that involves spending time, unpaid, doing something that aims to benefit the environment or individuals or groups other than (or in addition to) close relatives'.
Employer-supported volunteering refers to programmes through which employers will assist their employees in volunteering, whether during work hours or in their own time.
How widespread is volunteering?
In 2010/11 25% of people of working age took part in volunteering at least once a month and 39% at least once a year.
In 2007/8 over 2 million people in England volunteered through an employer-supported volunteering (ESV) scheme. A quarter of employees are offered a scheme by their employer, with 43% of those offered a scheme taking part at least once a year.
The 2007 national survey of volunteering and charitable giving, Helping out, found that larger companies (with over 250 employees) are more likely to have an EVS scheme available (47%) , compared to medium sized companies with 51-249 employees (20%) or small companies with 50 or less staff (14%).
The London 2012 Games raised the profile of volunteers, attracting 250,000 applications for 70,000 volunteer 'games makers'. For more information on the Olympics and Paralympics visit www.london2012.com.
How do volunteers differ from employees or workers?
The main difference is that volunteers do not have a contract of employment. For an arrangement between parties to amount to a contract of employment there must be:
- an offer of a position and subsequent acceptance
- an intention to create legal relations
- money in return for labour (for volunteers, a reimbursement of out-of-pocket expenses does not constitute payment. However flat rate payments have been regarded as earnings in some instances in case law)
- sufficient certainty about the job - for example, duties to be performed, hours, leave etc.
In order to be clear about the nature of the relationship between and employer and a volunteer, many employers give volunteers 'role descriptions' rather than 'job descriptions' and develop separate 'problem solving procedures' which are distinct from the disciplinary and grievance procedures available for their employees and workers.
What are the legal rights of volunteers?
The main legal rights that cover volunteers are:
- health and safety: employers must carry out a risk assessment if they are planning to involve a volunteer in their organisation. It is a good idea for the 'sending organisation' to check with the 'hosting organisation' that this has been done. Risk assessments are particularly important for young volunteers
- driving: volunteers are covered by special legal requirements for driving at work. The Health and Safety Executive has produced guidance, Driving at work - managing work-related road safety, available at the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website.
- data protection: the Data Protection Act does cover volunteers - for further information visit the Information Commissioner's Office website.
Volunteers do not have the same legal rights as employees (for example, the protection against unfair dismissal and the 'family friendly' rights) or those afforded to both employees and workers (such as the right to the National Minimum Wage, Working Time Regulations and protection against discrimination). However, 'volunteer workers' are defined as a category of worker' and are covered by the Working time regulations.
Are volunteers paid for the work they do?
Those volunteering as part of an employee volunteering scheme are not paid by their hosting organisation, because that would change their legal status, but they are often still paid by their sending organisation, for example their employer. This is something to be agreed between an employer and an employee and may become part of a contract of employment.
Many employers see volunteering as an excellent way of:
- allowing their staff to develop new skills and experiences
- helping charities or local community projects
Employees in some organisations are given an agreed quota of paid days leave per year to volunteer - typically, about two days a year.
At the London 2012 Games, many volunteers agreed to ten days work, with three days training prior to the Games. Employers may decide to match an employee's leave with special leave - for example, the employee takes five days leave and the employer grants them five days paid special leave - or they may expect their employees to take more annual leave or even unpaid leave.
Should I have an 'Employer Supported Volunteering Policy'?
Yes. A written policy has several benefits, including:
- demonstrating that the employer supported volunteering programme has the support of senior management and that the programme is taken seriously
- ensuring everyone knows the procedures involved
- promoting the programme.
A good employer supported volunteering policy will aim to meet the needs of both your company and the organisation you are working with.
It may include:
- a brief statement of commitment on employer supported volunteering and the reasons for that commitment
- guidelines on paid time off for community involvement
- a statement on how projects are to be chosen and the level of employee involvement in this
- guidelines on insurance and health & safety
- a short statement recognising the value of the voluntary activity undertaken by employees as private individuals, which may be in addition to or instead of participation in the structured programme.
What are volunteer agreements?
Volunteer agreements can be used to set out both an organisation's commitment to its volunteers, and what it hopes for from its volunteers. Such agreements act as a reference point for the volunteers, and a reminder to the organisation that it should meet the standards of good practice that it has set itself.
A volunteer agreement might include details about:
- Induction and training
- Supervision and support
- Health and safety
- Equal opportunities
The agreement can also set out what the organisation expects of the volunteer, in terms of their behaviour and the duties they will perform. Volunteering England has developed a sample volunteer agreement.
TUC and Volunteering England have produced a charter to help strengthen relations between paid staff and volunteers in volunteer-involving organisations. One of the Charter's main principles is that "The involvement of volunteers should complement and supplement the work of paid staff, and should not be used to dispel paid staff or undercut their pay and conditions of service".
What are interns and how do they differ from volunteers?
An internship is one form of non-contractual work that offers a young person some experience in the workplace. This kind of work may be called 'work experience' if carried out at school or 'work placement' if carried out at university. An internship usually refers to a graduate attempting to gain relevant professional experience before starting a career and can last up to a year.
The experience of interns is wide-ranging, and legally they may be employees, workers, voluntary workers, on work experience, or volunteers.
Do interns get paid?
If what an intern is doing is classed as work and there is a contractual relationship with their employer then they will be entitled to the national minimum wage. The National Minimum Wage legislation ensures that all workers in the UK over compulsory leaving age are entitled to be paid the NMW unless they are covered by exemption.
The Gateways to the Professions Collaborative Forum has produced a guide on internships - Common best practice Code for high-quality internships.