Advertising for volunteers – getting it right

Guest blog by Sonia Tse, Employment Law Adviser at Ellis Whitam.

Writing a role description is never an easy task. Most employers worry about whether the terminology and phrasing they use will be considered discriminatory under the Equality Act 2010. Charities, unfortunately, have much more to think about.

Often charities will look to recruit volunteers to help with the day-to-day running of the organisation. You may struggle with attracting the right people to these positions and getting sufficient interest if you have numerous vacancies available. It is vital to make sure that the advert is as enticing and appealing as possible, but you must bear in mind that a job description for an employee is not the same as a role description for a volunteer. They may look similar, but they are different and should not be confused!

You could run into a myriad of legal problems if you do not properly distinguish between an “employee” and a “volunteer”.  Employees have a wide array of employment rights and protections, for example to not be unfairly dismissed, not to be discriminated against and to be paid the National Minimum Wage. Typically, volunteers do not have these rights. However, you should not automatically assume this. If you have signed a volunteering agreement, the volunteer may be able to argue that they are entitled to employment law protections.  If an Employment Tribunal looks at the nature of the relationship and believes that the person recruited is being treated as an employee rather than a volunteer, you may be breaking a number of employment laws and face costly consequences.

One important way to avoid these types of claims is to get the drafting of the advert right. You should explain what your expectations are for the volunteer, rather than what obligations and duties you will impose on them. This means you should not imply that they are under a contract or agreement to perform certain tasks or work particular hours – the volunteer should be able to accept and decline as they wish.  You should also avoid writing legal jargon and use flexible terminology such as “your usual duties will be” or “it is expected you will”. This will help make the relationship sound less contractual.

For advice about your job advertisements.  ACEVO members; please contact 0845 226 8393, ask for the Partnerships Legal Team and quote your ACEVO membership number.

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