If you are stepping into the world of volunteering for the first time, using your skill and experience, you may be wondering where the lines between unpaid work and volunteering are drawn.
You may have heard it said that the main difference between unpaid work, such as a work experience placement, for example, and a voluntary position, is the intention of the participant. But this definition can lead us into pretty murky waters.
The intention of a person doing an unpaid work placement is clearly to gain experience that will eventually lead to employment. However, while this may not be the main motivation for volunteers, professional development is often a benefit of volunteering.
Using intention as a definition just isn’t clear enough!
So, how do you know where you stand? Is the support you are providing a legitimate volunteering activity, or are you doing someone’s job for free?
You will be glad to hear that there are actually some pretty clear guidelines on this from the UK Government.
In the eyes of the law, it all depends on whether you are classed as a worker, a volunteer, or an employee.
You are classed as a worker if:
If you fit this criteria you are classified as a worker and you are entitled to certain employment rights such as:
According to the UK Government, an employee is someone who works under an employment contract.
You are an employee if:
Employees have rights over and above workers such as:
You are a volunteer if:
Under UK law, volunteers have no legal status. But this simply means that they are not entitled to the National Minimum Wage and they are not protected by employment law.
You may have a volunteer agreement that sets expectations around training or expenses provided, but this does not amount to the same as a contract. This does make it a little difficult if something goes wrong in your role, you can check out this information from NCVO for more advice.
While these definitions are pretty clear, there are of course, times when things are not so black and white.
If you fit any of the above criteria you are likely to be a worker.
A voluntary worker is someone whose role is more similar to that of a worker but who still works for free. The main difference between a volunteer and a voluntary worker is that volunteers (with no defined responsibilities or hours) can work for any kind of organisation, public, private, or third-sector, while voluntary workers can only work in charitable or not-for-profit organisations.
Simply put, volunteer roles are based on expectations and trust rather than anything legally binding. You are not obliged to carry out the duties you have agreed to or even turn up in the first place.
However, if a relationship of mutual trust and respect is established between a volunteer and the not-for-profit organisation, the benefits are numerous.
If you want to know more about volunteering and how you can contribute your skills for a good cause, please get in touch!
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