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Employing Voluntary Staff

By: Jeff Durham - Updated: 22 Sep 2010 | comments*Discuss
Voluntary Staff Volunteers Rights

Charities and other not-for-profit organisations often gain significant benefits as a result of taking on voluntary staff and volunteers can be attracted to this kind of work especially as it provides them with the 'good feeling' factor of putting something back into the community.

Voluntary Staff

Volunteers offer their services to the business arena as a whole which enables employers to help build links with local communities such as colleges or universities or within their own industry in order to attract potential recruits. Volunteers themselves also have their own motivation for offering their services for free. It can enable them to gain valuable work experience in order to pursue jobs within their chosen career path and is also a useful mechanism for testing the water on both sides - to see if a company/job is right for the volunteer and vice versa. Indeed, there are some occupations where volunteering is often the most employed tactic to get a foot in the door - media jobs being a prime example.

It's also a myth to think that all volunteers are young and inexperienced school leavers. Many volunteers are older and some are even of pensionable age and come with many years worth of valuable experience.

Volunteers are often motivated and highly flexible and it is cost-efficient to employers providing the volunteer can do the job they have been asked to do. It is a good idea to give a member of staff responsibility in looking after the training and supervision of volunteers as this helps avoid friction with other members of staff and a good employer will consult volunteers to find out the level of involvement they would like and discuss what their role is going to consist of.

Before taking on volunteers, it's important to weigh up any Potential Risks against cost savings. For the most part, this is the same procedure you would have to take if you were looking for a new paid member of staff to carry out a particular role.

You should be aware of the business implications of managing volunteers such as:

  • Whether the company has a suitable vacancy
  • The space that is needed to accommodate them and will that be disruptive to other workers
  • Flexible working arrangements required by volunteers where you need to think about the needs of paid staff and if there is scope for adopting 'across the board' flexibility
  • Can you find time to give volunteers an induction to the company and task-specific training where needed
  • Can they be supervised, managed and provided with personal and professional support
  • Although volunteers work for no financial reward, they do need to feel appreciated which can be shown through supervision, recognition and involvement
  • It is also crucial to remember that volunteers are legally protected by the same health and safety legislation that is offered to other paid members of staff so you have the same Duty of Care

Contracts, Rights, Benefits and Allowances

Wherever possible, you should try not to offer a voluntary worker contractual rights. It is, however, beneficial to draw up a more informal volunteer agreement and role description in writing. Make sure the agreement is different from the contract or written terms and conditions you would use for paid staff. It is important you do not promise anything in return for the volunteer's services, although you can agree to give a volunteer relevant training.

A volunteer may still be eligible to receive certain benefits such as Disability Living Allowance or Jobseeker's Allowance although, for the latter, they must still be seeking work and eligible to work immediately, even if they are working for you as a volunteer. You can pay for their travel expenses but be careful with things like meal vouchers, for example, as if they do receive Jobseeker's Allowance, this is classed as 'payment in kind' and their benefit may be affected.

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