Can charities discipline volunteers?

Guest blog by Laura Chalkley, Senior Employment Law adviser and Partnerships Team Leader at Ellis Whittam

Volunteers are at the heart of most charities.

Although most in your organisation will be an incredible bunch of people, you may have the odd one from time to time who causes trouble. An important distinction between volunteers and employees is the level of control over the tasks carried out by a volunteer as opposed to an employee. This distinction is important from an employment status and liability perspective. However, this also begs the question can I really address misconduct issues with someone who is giving up their time for free?

The answer is yes. Sometimes, in fact, it is absolutely essential. If one of your volunteers turns up to work under the influence of drugs or they are committing acts that violate health and safety regulations, they are causing risk for not only themselves, but also their colleagues and service users.  Even small issues, such as a volunteer who is turning up late on a day when they offered to attend, can be detrimental as it can affect the morale of other volunteers and staff who see the problem and also see how it is not getting resolved.

This leads to the next question. Should you be using the same disciplinary policy for your paid members of staff and your volunteers?

If you treat your volunteers in the same way as employees, you are running a big risk. If legal action is taken against you and an Employment Tribunal looks at the nature of the relationship and believes that the person is being treated as an employee rather than a volunteer, you may be find yourself in breach of a number of employment laws. Employees have a wide range of rights, such as the right to the National Minimum Wage, holiday pay, maternity leave and protection from unfair dismissal. The safest way to get around this is to have a separate policy for volunteers, which covers how to deal and resolve any issues or problems fairly.

For further advice or support on the topic of employment status, please give us a free initial advice call. Members, please contact 0845 226 8393, ask for the Partnerships Legal Team and quote your ACEVO membership number.

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