There are differences between the rights of paid staff and volunteers.


There is currently no legislation specifically covering volunteers. Neither is there any legal definition of what a volunteer or voluntary worker is.

The accepted definition within the UK, and the one used within the Leeds Compact and Voluntary Action Leeds, is:

Any activity that involves spending time, unpaid, doing something that aims to benefit the environment or someone (individuals or groups) other than, or in addition to, close relatives”.

Central to this definition is the fact that volunteering must be a choice freely made and can include formal activity undertaken through public, private and voluntary organisations as well as informal community participation.

Although volunteers have no legislation specifically covering them, organisations must be careful that they do not involve volunteers in a way that creates an implied contract of employment. Cases have been bought in front of employment tribunals which have made a judgement that a volunteer was in fact a worker or an employee.

There is a range of criteria for an employment relationship, often referred to as 'tests'. Two in particular are especially pertinent to volunteering relationships; these are "control" and "mutuality of obligation".


This is the amount of autonomy a volunteer has and the level of integration they have within an organisation – taking into account not just the level of control exercised, but also the organisation of the work itself.

Mutuality of Obligation

Factors that may be taken into account here include whether the person is doing the work on a regular basis, and if there is a right to refuse work. Volunteering should be freely given and the volunteer has a right to stop volunteering at any point.

Organisations have to be careful that volunteers don't become employees in the eyes of the law.

Help with volunteers

 Volunteer Centre Leeds can provide help and advice around these issues and also help in developing or refreshing a volunteering programme for third sector organisations.