Volunteer rights and responsibilities
Various laws protect the rights of volunteers when fulfilling their roles. These laws also aim to create an environment that encourages volunteering by protecting volunteers from liability claims for actions conducted in good faith.
By volunteering you are generously donating your time, skills and efforts. However a volunteer environment is also a workplace, and you have certain rights and responsibilities that must be upheld.
Work health and safety
Volunteers volunteering for organisations who employ paid staff have the same responsibility and accountability, under the Work Health and Safety Act 2012, as workers do. This means the organisation has a duty of care and is responsible for providing volunteers with a safe working environment. It also means you have a responsibility to work safely, and observe any safety measures or organisational policies that are in place, including WHS policies and procedures.
Volunteer associations that do not have employees are not governed by South Australian work health and safety laws. However, under common law obligations, organisations owe a duty of care to its volunteers to take reasonable steps to avoid foreseeable harm, injury or loss.
Organisations can meet their responsibilities by:
- implementing a risk management plan
- making sure that supervisors and managers are adequately skilled to show volunteers how to perform their work safely and without injury
- ensuring that officers responsible for management (including volunteers) act within a certain standard of care by:
- learning about work health and safety
- identifying the organisation's particular safety challenges
- ensuring that work health and safety policies are put in place for the organisation.
You as a volunteer also have responsibilities in relation to work health and safety and it is important that you make yourself aware of what your responsibilities are. For instance, you must:
- look after your own health and safety at work
- not do anything that will harm yourself or your work-mates
- use any safety equipment that you are given
- obey your employer's safety rules
- make sure that you do not take drugs or drink alcohol at work
- participate in an induction and sign off to show that you understand what is expected of you.
Every workplace environment is different – contact SafeWork SA for more information about work health and safety requirements.
Anti-discrimination and equal opportunity laws address certain kinds of unfair treatment. See Legal considerations for the volunteer sector on this site, and the Equal Opportunity Commission website for further information.
The Volunteer Protection Act 2001 encourages people to volunteer for community organisations by addressing concerns that they could be held legally responsible for their actions while doing voluntary work on behalf of an organisation.
The Act gives legal protection from personal liability to volunteers doing voluntary work for an incorporated community organisation or government program, but does not cover personal injury matters.
To protect individuals in relation to personal injury, organisations may need to consider obtaining insurance for their volunteers, such as personal accident insurance. This insurance can provide benefits to volunteers following injury, disability or even death whilst carrying out duties for their organisation. Check with your organisation that they have appropriate insurance cover for you.
Volunteering can offer rewarding outcomes for all participants but this requires mutual respect and trust. A volunteer therefore has a right to expect privacy and confidentiality from staff and colleagues. They should also treat all information about other volunteers and clients as confidential, regardless of the source of information. Some organisations will have a specific policy about privacy.