Every year thousands of Australians support their community by volunteering with a wide range of organisations. Unlike paid staff, volunteers aren't covered by awards or workplace agreements. However they still have important rights and protections from mistreatment.
What is a volunteer?Although there is no legal definition of a volunteer in Australia, Volunteering Australia defines the act as ‘time willingly given for the common good and without financial gain’. Similarly, the Fairwork Ombudsman considers a volunteer to be someone ‘who does work for the main purpose of benefitting someone else’.
It seems obvious but sometimes, whether someone is a genuine volunteer as opposed to an employee or a contractor can be difficult to determine. Often, a lot will depend on the features of the particular relationship.
A volunteer arrangement is likely to exist where:
- The parties didn't 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.
What are your rights as a volunteer?Just because you're not getting paid doesn't mean you don't have any legal entitlements. As a volunteer, you 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 adequately covered by insurance
- To receive information about the organisation, policies and procedures
- To be reimbursed for out of pocket expenses
- To have a clearly written role description
- To have your confidential and personal information dealt with in accordance with the principles of the Privacy Act 1988, and
- To be provided with sufficient training.
What are your obligations when volunteering?As a volunteer, you're still expected to act in accordance with the organisation's policies and codes of conduct. This often includes the responsibility to:
- Be reliable and accountable
- Respect confidentiality
- Carry out the duties listed in the volunteer position description
- Undertake training as requested
- Give notice if your availability changes or you're leaving the organisation, and
- Support other team members.
Understanding your rights and entitlements as a volunteer can be difficult. At Shine Lawyers, we have a specialist team of employment lawyers who can assess your situation, and provide you with individually tailored legal solutions.
If you’re a volunteer and you believe you have been mistreated, get in touch with our employment experts today
Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: March 21, 2018.