Volunteer Work & Determining if a Volunteer is Actually an Employee

It can be sometimes unclear whether volunteers working for charitable organisations are truly volunteers or if they would fall into categories of workers or employees. If there is no statutory definition for volunteer work, it is critical for employers to determine whether their volunteers could be considered as employees, in which case they would have more rights and employers would be liable for paying the National Minimum Wage as well as operating PAYE.

Expenses for Volunteer Work

Volunteers cannot be given anything that isn’t directly related to their volunteer work. If you are a volunteer but not treated as such, then in the case of a dispute employers risk having a court or tribunal would interpret this as being a contractual one. It’s worth considering that employment and work contracts do not need to be in writing so it can be inferred from circumstances. Having documents implying that volunteers have to accept volunteer work or work certain hours adds a risk that volunteers can claim employment status.

Volunteers shouldn’t be reimbursed financially or receive any reward that would make it seem that they are being financially compensated for their services. This might be holiday pay, sick pay or any allowances. They may be paid to reimburse their “reasonable expenses” only which are normally limited to:

  • Food & drink while completing volunteer work
  • Travel undertook while volunteering to or from the premises
  • Childcare while volunteering
  • Equipment or any specific uniform
  • Phone calls, postage

Allowances & Accommodation

Alongside employees and workers, there is a third category of individuals to consider which is the category of voluntary workers. A volunteer is a person who works for charities and voluntary organisations by completing volunteer work for that particular organisation. They are exempt from the National Minimum Wage law as long as they receive no payment other than reimbursement of expenses (same as volunteers) and receive no other benefit in kind than reasonable subsidence of accommodation. It is not acceptable for charities to give money in lieu of accommodation, even if this amount is intended to be put towards accommodation.

Subsidence tends to involve food & drink, having clothing cleaned, utilities, medicine or toiletries. If a volunteer is directly engaged by a charity, subsidence cannot take the form of monetary payments.

Employers should check if their volunteers are truly volunteers or if they fall under the category of volunteer workers, in which case the National Minimum Wage exemption can still apply if all the conditions mentioned above are met. If not, they risk falling into the category of employees or workers, for which employers have to pay National Minimum Wage (along with all the rights and responsibilities associated with employees and workers).

Whether you are currently dealing with a claim from your volunteers or are looking to assess the current situation in your organisation with regards to volunteer work, we have a great deal of experience working with non-profits, so don’t hesitate to get in touch!

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