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Thinking about volunteering? Know your rights and responsibilities

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

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Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: March 21, 2018.

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