2014 is an eventful year for Scotland. Homecoming celebrations are already well underway, the Commonwealth Games arrive in Glasgow this July and the Ryder Cup will arrive in Scotland this September for only the second time in the history of the competition.
Across the country, thousands of volunteers are being sought to assist with these major events, creating potential challenges for both employers and the events themselves.
Employment law expert, Kate Wyatt, explains that it is essential that organisations and individuals are aware of the difference between volunteers and employees to keep themselves on the right side of the law.
Kate commented: “Volunteers do not have a contract of employment, so can’t be required to work a certain number of hours or days. Correspondingly, they have no entitlement to receive work or to be paid.”
So it begs the question, if a volunteer for a major event has set hours and days of work during the period of an event and gets paid, is the volunteer actually an employee?
There are some key factors in which organisations can use to clarify the difference between volunteers and employees:
- Volunteers genuinely offer their services and time freely and without obligation. Event organisers should ensure they have a carefully worded volunteer agreement in place, which includes a statement that there is no obligation to provide or do work.
- Where there is no obligation to give or perform work, an obligatory work schedule for the organisation’s convenience can cause confusion and blur the lines between volunteer and employee. Organisations must ensure that those supervising volunteers understand the difference between employed and volunteer status and do not impose employee type requirements such as set hours and disciplinary procedures on volunteers.
- Organisations using volunteers should also take particular care with any payments. Volunteers should not receive any benefits except genuine expenses, preferably on production of receipts. Additional payments can change the relationship from voluntary to one of employment.
The impact which these two major events may have on Scottish employers is also likely to be considerable, with an unusual increase in the numbers of staff expected to request unpaid or annual leave over these periods.
Continues Kate: “With both the Ryder Cup and the Commonwealth Games, not to mention other major events, all looking to make extensive use of volunteers, the likelihood of someone in your organisation volunteering to take part may be actually quite high. This can create considerable pressure on employers during these peak periods so it is essential you are prepared for any impact this may have.”
She added: “With Scotland hosting two major global events in 2014, it is likely employers will be faced with a surge in staff who want time off to volunteer, or attend the Commonwealth Games or the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles.
“We advise employers to plan now for such likely pressures and in particular to consider requiring extra notice of employees’ holiday plans for the relevant period to ensure appropriate staffing levels will be maintained.
“Having extra notice will enable holiday or unpaid leave to be allocated fairly and consistently in a non-discriminatory way.
“If employers are prepared to allow employees to take leave to volunteer, ask for plenty of notice and confirm in respect of each agreed request whether it is granted as unpaid leave, annual leave or paid volunteer leave.”
Advance planning, reminding staff of procedures for booking annual leave and informing them of your volunteering policies well in advance will ensure that staff know what to expect and will reduce the likelihood of problems at the time of the events themselves.
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