Rights and Responsibilities of a Volunteer
Volunteering opportunities are not covered by employment law and you should never be required to sign a contract to undertake volunteering work. However, some organisations will ask you to sign a volunteering agreement or volunteering policy. This is not the same as contract. A volunteer is never required to perform work and can quit at any time without fear of repercussion.
You may receive expenses that cover the money you have to expend during the course of your volunteer placement. This usually includes travel, meals, equipment you have to buy as part of your placement and, sometimes, childcare costs. It is important not to accept expenses that are more than your expenditure as this is considered a payment and would constitute a contract of employment.
Your role will be covered by the same government health and safety legislation that covers employed staff.
As a volunteer you are not covered by anti-discrimination laws.
The organisation you are volunteering with should have insurance that covers its volunteers. Ask to see the policy for details of coverage.
As a volunteer you have the same rights as an employee when it comes to data protection.
You may be given a voluntary agreement when you start your role and this should explain to you what level of supervision and support you will receive.
Policies and procedures
When you volunteer for an organisation you have a duty to respect and follow the organisation’s policies and procedures on issues like discrimination, harassment, grievances and workplace conduct.
Each voluntary organisation is different and has differing procedures, but most organisations will have a volunteer handbook or will give you copies of their governance and policies. Many of these policies are derived from the law and it is important that you make sure to read, understand and follow the policies of the organisation you are volunteering for.
Approach your supervisor
When you start volunteering you will be given a description of your role and you will be responsible for carrying out your activities in accordance with the duties outlined in that role. As with any role, as an employee or volunteer, you should approach your supervisor if you are unsure about your role.
When you are a volunteer you are a representative of the organisation that you are volunteering with. It is important that you conduct yourself professionally and with consideration for that.
Charities and other voluntary organisations invest a lot of time and effort into their volunteers because the value that volunteers bring to the organisation is more than worth the effort. But as a volunteer it is important that you are honest about the time you can give and your other commitments.
One of the best things volunteers can do is give honest feedback to the organisation on their role, the projects they are working on and their experience as a volunteer. Don’t be afraid to let the organisation you are volunteering for know your opinion!
What If Things Don’t Work Out
Should thing’s not work out the way you envisaged while volunteering, follow these helpful links for advice on what to do next.