How your organisation should treat volunteers

Advice and Guidance

Who is this page for?

  • Any organisation providing a service

Which countries is it relevant to?

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What is the legal status of your volunteers?

Some volunteers have a contract to personally do work for you and receive more than just their out-of-pocket expenses in exchange.

If this applies to your volunteers, then they may be protected as if they are employed by you, and you should read the Equality and Human Rights Commission guide to what equality law means for employers. Information at the front of this guide tells you how you can get hold of this.

If this does not apply to your volunteers, then it is possible that, when you are providing a volunteering opportunity for someone, this counts as providing them with a service.

This means that the rest of this guide applies to your volunteers just as much as it does to your service users or clients. You should avoid unlawful discrimination in how you treat volunteers.

Your responsibility for what your volunteers do

Whatever their legal status, it is likely that a volunteer delivering your service would be acting on your behalf if they unlawfully discriminated against a client or service user. If so, you could be held legally responsible for what they did.

This is true, even if you are not aware of the conduct and you did not approve it.

You can read more about when you are responsible for what other people. The suggestions there about how you can make sure you have done what is necessary to avoid responsibility apply to volunteers just as much as they do to any paid staff you have. 

Last updated: 19 Feb 2019

Further information

If you think you might have been treated unfairly and want further advice, you can contact the Equality Advisory and Support Service.

Phone: 0808 800 0082

You can email using the contact form on the EASS website.

Also available through the website are BSL interpretation, web chat services and a contact us form.


Opening hours:

9am to 7pm Monday to Friday
10am to 2pm Saturday
closed on Sundays and Bank Holidays

Alternatively, you can visit our advice and guidance page.