Volunteers can provide a significant benefit to organisations. However, engaging volunteers or other unpaid workers can present significant issues and risks if handled improperly. These include claims for unpaid wages and claims arising from termination of “employment”.
Volunteers and Claims in the Fair Work Commission
A recent case before the Fair Work Commission shed light on the grey areas surrounding volunteer work, when the engagement of a football coach for a State-based football association was terminated. The former coach made an unfair dismissal claim, asserting that he was in fact an employee. The football association successfully argued that, despite paying the coach an honoraria of $4,000 for the season, he was a volunteer and was unable to bring a claim.
It is quite possible that if the football association had been a for-profit business, the outcome could have been very different, and the Commission may have found it had jurisdiction to hear the case.
Obligations to Unpaid Workers
While many employment laws including unfair dismissal protections do not cover true volunteers, other considerations in engaging volunteers include obligations under occupational health and safety laws, and protections from workplace bullying, harassment and discrimination. These obligations cannot be overlooked merely because the workers are unpaid.