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What you need to know about volunteers and your startup

By Vivian Michael | Employment

Working with volunteers at your startup ? Here's what you should know to avoid legal headaches.

Have you thought about bringing volunteer at your startup ?

If you want to make use of volunteers at your startup, there are some things you should know to avoid legal problems.

1. Who is a volunteer ?

A volunteer gives their time willingly and does not get paid. They could undertake many diverse roles and they may be undertaking volunteer work to meet a course requirement.

2. Fair work ombudsman guidance

The Fair Work Ombudsman provides guidance about a legitimate volunteering situation:

The Fair Work Ombudsman provides guidance about a legitimate volunteering situation:

  • The main purpose is not to benefit someone else
  • There is no intention to create a legally binding employment relationship

  • There is no obligation to attend work or perform work; and

  • There’s no expectation of payment.

3. Volunteer agreement tips

Here are some handy tips for drafting your volunteer agreements:

  • Clear agreement - call it a volunteer agreement instead of an employment agreement
  • Not legally enforceable - include a clause that reads “both parties do not intend to enter into a legally enforceable contract”.
  • Expenses - include a clause that states the volunteer will be reimbursed for reasonable expenses.
  • Notification - have a clause that requests the volunteer tell you if they cannot work their shifts.
  • Avoid words typically used in an employment agreement - e.g. work, appointment, salary, payment and “you must”.

4. Gifts and financial rewards

Be careful not to provide gifts or financial rewards to volunteers that can be construed as wages or payment for service, here are some situations to avoid:

Be careful not to provide gifts or financial rewards to volunteers that can be construed as wages or payment for service, here are some situations to avoid:

  • Payments that are made based on hours worked.

  • Payment that exceeds an expense incurred by a volunteer.

  • Lump sum payments.









If in doubt, get in touch, we're glad to help. Do you have any volunteer tips or experiences to share ? If so, be sure to leave us a comment. 

 

 

 

About the Author

In October 2014 I founded Michael Law Group to make legal services accessible to startups that would otherwise DIY, rely on legacy contracts or go without.

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