Volunteer workplace rights and obligations
It is estimated that nearly 6 million people volunteer their time, knowledge and expertise through various organisations annually across Australia. Volunteers are not covered by any State or Federal employment awards or workplace agreements, however, they still have workplace rights that are protected in legislation.
What is a volunteer?
There is no set legal definition of a volunteer, however, the Fair Work Ombudsman considers a volunteer to be:
“someone who does work for the main purpose of benefitting someone else, such as a church, sporting club, government school, charity or community organisation. Volunteers are not employees and don’t have to be paid”
Volunteering Australia has defined volunteering as “time willingly given for the common good and without financial gain.”
The key characteristics of a genuine volunteering arrangement include:
- The parties did not intend to create a legally binding employment relationship;
- The volunteer is under no obligation to attend the workplace or perform work; and
- The volunteer doesn’t expect to be paid for their work.
The Fair Work Ombudsman provides that the more formalised a volunteer work arrangement becomes, the greater the possibility that an employment relationship will be found.
Your rights as a volunteer
The Volunteering Australia website has produced a checklist of your rights as a volunteer. As a volunteer, despite not being paid, you still have the right:
- to work in a healthy and safe environment;
- to be interviewed and engaged in accordance with equal opportunity and anti-discrimination legislation;
- to be protected from workplace bullying;
- to be adequately covered by insurance (for example, public liability insurance);
- to be given accurate and truthful information about the organisation for which you are working;
- to be reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses;
- to be given a copy of the organisation’s volunteer policy and other policies that affect your work;
- not to fill a position previously held by a paid worker;
- not to do the work of paid staff during industrial disputes;
- to have a job description and agreed working hours;
- to have access to a grievance procedure;
- to be provided with orientation to the organisation;
- to have your confidential and personal information dealt with in accordance with the Australian Privacy Principles; and
- to be provided with sufficient training to do your job.
Your obligations as a volunteer
Volunteering Queensland explains that volunteers have a responsibility to:
- be reliable;
- respect confidentiality;
- carry out the tasks defined in the role description;
- be accountable;
- be committed to the organisation;
- undertake training as requested;
- ask for support when they need it;
- give notice before they leave the volunteer role;
- value and support other team members;
- carry out the work they have agreed to do responsibly and ethically;
- notify the organisation as soon as possible of absences; and
- adhere to policies and procedures.
As a volunteer, there is an expectation that you act in accordance with the organisation’s policies and codes of conduct.
Work Health and Safety and volunteers
Depending upon whether the organisation you are volunteering for employs anyone to carry out paid work determines whether or not Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws apply. If the organisation pays a person to carry out work, then you (and the organisation) are covered under the relevant WHS legislation and therefore have WHS duties.
If the organisation is only made up of volunteers, then the organisation and its volunteers are not covered under any WHS legislation and therefore do not have any WHS duties. Despite not having any WHS duties in these circumstances, it is still important to always take care to do what the organisation has directed you to do in a safe way.
A volunteer must take reasonable care for their own health and safety and take reasonable care to not adversely affect others’ health and safety.
In Queensland, Under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld) (the WHS Act), a person is a volunteer if they are acting on a voluntary basis (irrespective of whether the person receives out-of-pocket expenses). If you are a volunteer under the WHS Act, you are also a worker.
This means that the organisation you volunteer for must provide you with the same protections as its paid workers. This also means that a volunteer also has duties under the WHS Act.
Safe Work Australia provides a helpful guide about Work Health and Safety for Volunteers.
Worker’s compensation rights for volunteers
Worker’s compensation schemes are different across Australia and you should seek advice locally if you require further information about any potential worker’s compensation for volunteers in your State or Territory.
It is important to note that volunteers are not considered ‘workers’ for workers’ compensation purposes under the Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003 (Qld) (WCR Act).
Worker’s compensation for volunteer emergency services (firefighters)
Under s15 of the WCR Act, a volunteer firefighter in Queensland may be covered by WorkCover and be entitled to compensation for “injury sustained only while attending at a fire, or practising, or performing any other duty, as a volunteer.”
Worker’s compensation for volunteer emergency services varies across Australia. You should seek advice locally if you require further information about worker’s compensation for volunteer emergency services workers in your State or Territory.
Get help from an employment lawyer
If you’re a volunteer and you believe the organisation(s) you are volunteering at is not adhering to their obligations, contact us for advice on your options.
Contacting Hall Payne Lawyers
You can contact us by phone or email to arrange your consultation; either face-to-face at one of our offices, by telephone or by videoconference consultation.
This article relates to Australian law; either at a State or Federal level.
The information contained on this site is for general guidance only. No person should act or refrain from acting on the basis of such information. Appropriate professional advice should be sought based upon your particular circumstances. For further information, please do not hesitate to contact Hall Payne Lawyers.
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