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LEGAL STATUS OF VOLUNTEERS

The legal status of volunteers is not clear-cut, there is a range of options, from the purely voluntary to contractual arrangements.  This uncertainty can make it difficult for organisations taking on volunteers to ascertain whether and to what extent they owe their volunteers legal obligations.

Practical tips for reducing the risk of creating a legally binding contract:

•  Avoid making payments to volunteers that could be construed as wages.  Payments to cover actual expenses should be clearly identified as such and ideally be reimbursed against receipts.

•  Remove or at least minimise any perks that could be regarded as remuneration.

•  Reduce obligations on the part of the volunteer by for example, giving the volunteer the ability to refuse tasks and choose when to work.

•  Avoid using language that makes the arrangement sound contractual and adopt flexible language, such as “usual” and “suggested”.

•  Treat volunteers fairly and have in place clear procedures for dealing with problems and grievances to reduce the risk of disputes
    with volunteers.

Those engaging volunteers would be well advised to seek advice at the outset so that properly drafted agreements can be put into place to minimise the risk of a situation being misconstrued.