Volunteers v Employees

Volunteers are a valuable asset to our community. Those who give up their time and help others whether it be for a sporting, cultural , school, or charitable cause all contribute to a sense of community.

Unfortunately several cases have gained attention recently where the working arrangements in place have seen employers take advantage of volunteers. So, when is a person a Volunteer and when is a person an Employee?

What’s the difference?

Section 6 of the Employment Relations Act 2000 defines an employee as “a person of any age employed by an employer to do any work for hire or reward under a contract of service.” Reward does not have to be money, it can could include accommodation, or food.

Section 6 (2) of the Employment Relations Act 2000 Act states that when the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) or Employment Court is tasked with deciding whether a worker is an employee or volunteer they must ascertain – what is the real nature of the relationship. In answering this question the intention of both parties needs to be examined such as:

  • the worker is paid or rewarded for their work;
  • the worker expects to be paid for their work;
  • the business is making an economic gain from their work;
  • their work is integral to the business; and
  • the worker’s hours are controlled.

The above questions will be looked at as a whole, and a decision made whether the relationship was more similar to that of an employee or volunteer.

What does this mean for Groups and Organisations who have Volunteers?

A volunteer (for the purposes of employment law) is someone who:

Doesn’t expect to be rewarded for work performed AND also does not receive reward for carrying out the work.

So if you want to take on volunteer workers, make sure there are systems in place that protect volunteers and ensure you aren’t exposing yourself to liability by acting as an employer. We recommend:

  1. Making it clear there is no intention to enter into a legal binding relationship
  2. Using documentation that clearly states the worker is a volunteer
  3. Keep obligations of the volunteer to a minimum, ie they can leave at any time, decline requests to work, aren’t required to commit to any period of time
  4. If money is given to the volunteer make sure it’s for reimbursing out of pocket expenses not reward for work done.

If you are not sure of your obligations, we suggest obtaining legal advice as every situation will depend on its own unique facts.