• International Workplace
  • 9 May 2017

Gig economy: where do volunteers stand?

The recent trend of ‘gig’ economy cases involving companies including Uber, Pimlico Plumbers and the pending Deliveroo case have brought employment status and employment rights into the public eye. These cases have highlighted the importance of correctly identifying an individual’s employment status from the outset because this determines what employment rights individuals may be entitled to.

Recent decisions clearly demonstrate that Employment Tribunals will closely consider the reality of a working arrangement and not simply accept what is written in the original contract. Importantly, Tribunal judges will adopt a practical approach to assess what the day-to-day nature of the relationship is to conclude, whether or not an individual really is self-employed, or, in fact an employee or worker. Volunteers can present difficulties, however.

Volunteers should not be paid for their time when working for an organisation, which can raise issues when managing that individual and their expectations. It is important that organisations who engage volunteers make it clear to them they are helpers and that they are not an employee or worker.

A volunteer should not be issued a contract of employment. Rather, it is best to provide them with a volunteer agreement in order to set out the expectations of both parties and mitigate the risk of volunteers later asking for wages that they may believe they are owed. Volunteer agreements should cover the following:

  • Clarify that the post is a voluntary position without pay.
  • Any expenses, such as travel, you may cover.
  • Description of their role (note the use of ‘role’ not ‘job’).
  • What supervision or management will be provided.
  • Training that may be provided, e.g. on computer systems you use, with relevance to the role.
  • Expectation of time commitments.
  • Any expectations (rather than obligations) between the organisation and the volunteer e.g. regarding the duration of the arrangement.
  • Insurance details – are they covered under employer or Public Liability Insurance?
  • Health and safety issues (if any).

Expenses may cover things such as food, drink and travel and it is best to clarify these as being on a genuine out-of-pocket basis rather than a fixed weekly or monthly amount because that could point towards the individual being a worker rather than a volunteer. Any other payment, reward or perk could be deemed to be part of an employee or worker’s salary package, therefore entitling them to the employment rights that fit that status. Note that any promise of future paid work or contract could also risk engaging a volunteer as an employee or worker.

Organisations should remember that the relationship between the volunteer and the organisation is one of mutual benefit. Organisations may benefit from highly skilled contributions for free and the volunteer can receive role relevant training and personal satisfaction from their contribution. It is important that volunteers are managed by someone in the business to ensure their contributions are of value to the organisation and the volunteer’s time is well spent.

One thing to bear in mind is that, unlike employees, workers or self-employed contractors, volunteers are not protected by discrimination legislation. 

For an organisation with many volunteers, it is also worthwhile avoiding the risks associated with employment status by having a Volunteering Policy. This policy will clarify the organisation’s commitment to its volunteers, demonstrating that it cares and also allowing for consistency throughout the wider organisation. Volunteering policies can be a resource for managers, staff and volunteers to fully understand the role of volunteers and the reason they are engaged in the organisation. This policy should cover the following: 

  • Recruiting volunteers.
  • Training and induction processes.
  • Expenses covered (or not).
  • Supervision, support and management.
  • Health and safety information.
  • Data protection and confidentiality.
  • Complaints procedures for volunteers.

As an employer, it is important to protect your organisation by establishing the volunteering status of helpers and managing that relationship from the beginning and ensure that the day-to-day reality of the arrangement also reflects the volunteer relationship. Having an agreement in place which confirms their status is important but as recent cases have emphasised, simply relying on the wording of an agreement to establish employment status will potentially lead to costly litigation.


Pam Loch is Managing Partner of niche employment law practice, Loch Employment Law and Managing Director of Loch Associates Group incorporating HR Advise Me, Loch Mediation and Loch Health.

For more information on Loch Employment Law and the Loch Associates Group please go to or or email Pam at