We place volunteers in disabled peoples home

We place volunteers in disabled peoples home and once matched they are unsupervised. We create a statement of commitment, which states it’s not a contract, and the specific activities within the volunteer/learner match are broken into steps, with risk assessment on the back page. It is signed by the staff member, the volunteer, the learner (service user) and a 3rd party if appropriate. We sometimes use pictures if the learner would find it too ‘texty’. We use the ‘signing up’ as acknowledgement of ‘buy in’ from everyone to the timed period of volunteer intervention.

It manages everyone’s expectations from the start about how the volunteer will be involved and enables the volunteer to use this tool to manage the boundaries of their role on an ongoing basis. A volunteer said to me that it created a helpful ‘formalizing’ of what they are doing, within the informal setting of the learners home and it marked the start of a journey and commitment for both – like a handshake on paper. I’m not saying we’re right – I also agree with other arguments about why you might not do it – perhaps it’s context specific..

That is why it is so important to keep in touch with other professionals and continued dialogue enabling each of us to determine what is the best procedure to implement in our own organizations

One great way of doing that is joining AVM – volunteermanagers.org.uk – try it!

This is quite a useful example. I suppose it the context we need to think about, and, I am sure in the majority of cases, volunteers may not have a problem. I also agree with Rob, actually, that we as professionals need to set the tone for best practice. Volunteer England provide very good guidance and, as has been correctly pointed out, it is probably outside their remit to legalize anything. Point taken!

Thanks very much for all comments, it has been extremely helpful! And one of the problems is that just saying it isn’t a contract doesn’t make it a non-contract.

In fact, if it was indeed found to be a contract, saying it isn’t one could be seen as trying to deprive someone of their contractual rights.

Years of experience have taught me that there are no easy answers to this kind of issue.

I have never heard of such a case

I have never heard of such a case. Even if a volunteer did try to argue that being invited to a staff Christmas party constitutes consideration and therefore creates a contract, I cannot believe that any tribunal would accept the argument.

What a volunteer might possibly have done is include this in a list of all the reasons why the tribunal should find that there is a contract and therefore s/he should be entitled to employment and employment-related rights.

For details of cases that illustrate when volunteers might or might not be held to be working under a contract, see The Russell-Cooke Voluntary Sector Legal Handbook (Directory of Social Change, 2009), s.39.4.

You could also call it the Team Christmas Party.

Terminology is more important than we might realise and it is relevant to more than the Christmas party (which it could also be called). Many organizations have staff away days some invite volunteers along with not much talk up. Simply by rebranding it to Staff and Volunteers away day-volunteers will obviously feel fully invited and that their input is being sought. Which should help your volunteers feel valued and maybe even improve retention. 🙂