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5 Frequently asked questions surrounding Voluntary Workers

Written by  Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Voluntary workers are becoming more commonplace in the workforce, and as they are not officially employees there is sometimes some misunderstanding regarding volunteers and employment law. Some people are confused about what rights they have as a voluntary worker and what they can expect. Likewise, some companies are unaware of what responsibilities of any they have toward their voluntary workers and what action they need to take to abide by the employment law.

With this in mind we have compiled a list of frequently asked questions from both voluntary workers and the organisations they are working for to help both parties understand what to expect.

Do I get a contract of employment as a voluntary worker?

Voluntary workers don't get a contract of employment as they are not employees, so they don't have the same rights as employees. They might get a volunteer agreement but it isn't mandatory for the organisation to provide one. If a volunteer agreement is provided, this is likely to outline what expenses the company will cover, whether or not volunteer workers will be covered on their liability insurance and what training they can expect to receive. This agreement in no way forms any contract between the volunteer and the organisation.

How old do I have to be to volunteer?

There are age limits on when you can volunteer, for example a person under 14 cannot work for a profit making organisation whether it is paid or unpaid voluntary work. Anyone under 16 won't be covered on the liability insurance, so this can be a factor when an organisation is deciding who to take on as a voluntary worker. The upper age limit is usually 80.

Will my benefits be affected if I volunteer?

Provided the only payment you receive is for expenses incurred you can still claim benefits. So long as you still meet the qualifying criteria for the benefit you are claiming the benefit won't be affected at all by your volunteer status.

As an employer, do I have to put Voluntary Workers through the company payroll?

No. In fact it is advised that volunteers do not go through the payroll even for the payment of expenses. This is because volunteer expenses are not liable for tax, and if volunteers are put through the payroll this can confuse their volunteer status. It is important to make sure any expenses are paid at the exact amount expensed by the volunteer as this can also have an effect on whether a worker goes from being a volunteer to being employed.

What are the ways in which a workers status can be called into question?

If you pay a voluntary worker any monies over and above what has actually been expensed by them they can be classed as an employee and therefore become entitled to the same rights as any other employee. This will mean they must be paid minimum wage for all the hours they work for the company, and will also be entitled to holiday pay.

This also applies to any other kind of reward, monetary or otherwise a voluntary worker might receive for their time that is not expenses. If a voluntary worker gets anything from the organisation as a "perk" in lieu of payment for their time this would be viewed as a benefit in kind and would therefore make the worker eligible for employment status. Likewise, if the company were to promise the voluntary worker future employment of any kind then this could also be seen as a reward and therefore make the worker eligible for minimum wage payment for the entire length of time spent with the organisation.

With this in mind it is obviously important to know the rules surrounding your voluntary workers to ensure you are not inadvertently giving them employment status and employment rights. If you are doing this then you are breaking the law if you are not paying them at least minimum wage for all the hours they are working for you.

Likewise it is important if you are a voluntary worker to know what you can expect from your status and what aspects of your life it can affect such as receipt of benefits.

For more information on voluntary workers click here.

Carly Boyd

Carly started her career with Dataplan back in 2013 as a temporary admin assistant. Coming from a background in Graphic Design, she fell in love with payroll and worked her way up to Project Manager just 2 years later. Carly is currently involved in the massive undertaking that is setting up Auto Enrolment pensions, and continues to show her commitment to payroll by studying for her Payroll Management degree.

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