Volunteer rights and responsibilities

There are things you should think about before you become a volunteer, like the sort of organisation you want to be involved with, how much time you have and what sort of role will suit you.

When you choose to volunteer for an organisation, they have responsibilities for making sure you are safe and happy in your role. But you will have to play your part in contributing to the organisation as well.

Unlike paid staff, volunteers are not covered by awards or work-place agreements.

However volunteers do have rights, some which are set out in legislation and some which are considered the moral obligations of an organisation involving volunteers.

Select a topic to find out more:

  • Your rights
  • Your responsibilities
  • Insurance
  • Occupational health and safety
  • Sexual harassment
  • Privacy
  • Tools and resources

Your rights

As a volunteer you have the right to:

  • A healthy and safe environment
  • An orientation or induction session
  • Information about the organisation you are working for, including policies and procedures
  • A volunteer position description or volunteer agreement which outlines the tasks that you will be expected to perform and the agreed working hours
  • Be provided with sufficient training and supervision
  • Be reimbursed for necessary out of pocket expenses
  • Be protected by appropriate insurance
  • Have your personal information dealt with in a confidential manner
  • Take holidays
  • Say 'no' if you are uncomfortable or feel you are being exploited
  • Be informed and consulted on matters which affect you and your work.

As a volunteer you should not be:

  • Filling a position previously held by a paid worker
  • Doing the work of paid staff during an industrial dispute
  • Treated in a manner that is discriminatory.

Volunteering Australia outlines the basic rights of a volunteer in their Volunteer rights and volunteer checklist (PDF 56KB).

Your responsibilities

Volunteer organisations should have internal policies or procedures in place, including a statement on how they manage volunteer involvement. They should have clear procedures on how they deal with complaints, grievances or discrimination. There may also be staff behaviours and values that are expected, or a code of conduct in place.

The guiding policies and procedures will most likely be discussed during your induction process. If they are not you should ask your supervisor for copies of the documents. As a volunteer you are expected to act in a manner consistent with these policies and procedures.

All volunteers are expected to:

  • Be punctual and reliable
  • Respect confidentiality
  • Carry out the duties listed in your volunteer position description
  • Be accountable
  • Give notice if your availability changes or you are leaving the organisation
  • Report any injuries or hazards that you notice in the workplace
  • Adhere to the organisation's policies and procedures
  • Deal with complaints in the appropriate manner
  • Undertake training as requested
  • Ask for support when needed
  • Support other team members.

Insurance

Generally, volunteers are not treated as employees for WorkSafe purposes, and are not usually covered by a WorkSafe Injury Insurance policy. For this reason, it is important to check if the organisation you are volunteering for has insurance that will cover you if you are in an accident or are injured while you are volunteering.

It is an organisation's responsibility to ensure that appropriate insurance cover is provided to protect volunteer staff and volunteer members of community management committees.

Volunteer Workers Personal Accident Insurance

Personal Accident Cover for volunteers is similar to Victoria's compulsory work cover for paid employees. It covers volunteers for some expenses following accidental injury, disability or death which occurs while you are carrying out your work on behalf of the organisation.

Public Liability Insurance

Public Liability Insurance covers the organisation's legal liability to pay damages to a third party (such as a member of the public or clients of the organisation) for personal injury or property damage accidentally caused by a member of the organisation, including its volunteers.

Occupational health and safety

The purpose of occupational health and safety (OHS) law is to protect the health, safety and welfare of all people who come into contact with a workplace in Victoria – like employees, volunteers, clients and visitors.

Under the law everyone is responsible for OHS.

Organisations have obligations under Commonwealth and state laws to ensure that volunteers are not exposed to risks to their health or safety in their volunteer role. They must also provide you with the information and training you need to perform your volunteer role safely.

As a volunteer, you must also look after your own health and safety, and avoid putting others at risk. This means you must:

  • Follow health and safety instructions
  • Use appropriate personal protective equipment
  • Report any injuries or hazards that you notice in the workplace.

See WorkSafe – What you need to know about health and safety – Volunteers in community services for more information.

Sexual harassment

Under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010, volunteers have the same protection against sexual harassment as paid employees. This means that workplace policies for volunteers will protect you from sexual harassment in the same way it protects paid employees.

Basically, an employer must not sexually harass a person who is seeking work as a volunteer or currently working as a volunteer. It also means that, as a volunteer, you must not sexually harass another person, including:

  • Other volunteers
  • Employees of the organisation
  • Your employer
  • Any another person looking for work or a volunteering opportunity in that organisation.

See Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission – Volunteers and sexual harassment for more information.

Privacy

All volunteers have the right to have personal information dealt with in a confidential manner. Organisations have obligations under Commonwealth and state laws, depending on the type of organisation they are.

Most organisations will have a privacy policy which states how they will comply with the law. In general, this policy should explain:

  • How information is collected
  • How information is stored
  • How information is used
  • How and when information is updated
  • Who is responsible for keeping records
  • Who can access personal information
  • How information is disposed of.

If you are a volunteer and you feel your personal information is not being handled appropriately you should contact the Commissioner for Privacy and Data Protection for advice.