Disciplining volunteers in charities

Volunteers are at the heart of most charities, but unfortunately, there’s always the odd bad apple.

Most people at your charity will be a fantastic bunch of people, but if one of your employees does cause trouble, you can deal with them through your disciplinary process. However, what happens if its one of your volunteers is the one committing the misconduct?

An important distinction between volunteers and employees is the level of control over the tasks. This distinction is important from an employment status and liability perspective.

Can I really discipline 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 creating risks for not only themselves, but also their colleagues and service users. Even small issues, such as a volunteer turning up late every day, 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.

Should I use the same disciplinary policy for paid members of staff and volunteers?

If you treat your volunteers in the same way as employees, there are risks. If legal action was taken against you and an Employment Tribunal assesses the nature of the relationship and believes that the person is being treated as an employee rather than a volunteer, you may find yourself in breach of a number of employment laws. Remember that employment status dictates what rights the person is entitled to.

Employees have access to a wide array of employment rights and protection, such as maternity leave, paternity leave and protection from unfair dismissal. Workers have certain rights, such as holiday pay and the National Minimum Wage. Typically, volunteers do not have these rights.

The safest way to get around this is to have a separate policy for volunteers, which covers how to deal with any issues fairly. This avoids confusion with employees’ formal disciplinary and grievance policies.

If you require more assistance on the topic of employment status, contact our Employment Law Advisers who can give you guidance and support.

Director of Legal Services

James Tamm

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