This factsheet will introduce you to when the law does, and doesn’t, consider volunteers employees and their rights under employment law.
Are volunteers employees?
In general, no. The common law defines a volunteer as someone who performs unpaid work for another, and who is not party to a contract of employment. There is no contract of employment between a volunteer and the organisation they volunteer for, because the volunteer receives no wages and the volunteer is not obliged to perform work (but merely chooses to do so).
However, legally speaking, the distinction between a volunteer and an employee is not always clear. If the volunteer has clearly delineated duties, has worked for the business for a long time, and is remunerated in some manner other than wages (such as an allowance, honorarium, or a one-off payment), the courts may find that an employment relationship exists between the volunteer and the organisation.
As, other than in rare cases, volunteers are not employees at law, they do not have the same rights afforded to employees, such as an entitlement to wages and protection against unfair dismissal. But volunteers are covered by the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 that applies in your state/Territory (except where the organisation is a wholly voluntary association), and in most cases, are covered by the workplace bullying provisions of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth). The application of national and state/territory based discrimination laws, including sexual harassment provisions, can apply, depending on the state and territory in which your organisation operates and some other factors.
Your organisation might also agree to provide other entitlements to volunteers in their volunteer agreement or HR policy manual.
Contact our Employment Law & Investigations Team for more information.