Asking a volunteer to read and agree to a Volunteer Agreement can be a useful way of ensuring that all parties are clear about their respective roles, rights and responsibilities. This may form part of the volunteer role description or be a separate generic document that all volunteers read and agree to.
The Agreement form may include confirmation of understanding of and acceptance of the requirements of Confidentiality. It may also request details of next of kin or emergency contact and their contact details if these have not already been requested (for example on an application form). It is important to ensure that any document is carefully worded and does not imply any contractual obligation on either side. This can be avoided by following the below guidance:
Time commitments tend to be the most problematic area here. Most Trusts ask volunteers to commit to minimum time periods, with volunteers agreeing to volunteer for at least three or six months. This should be avoided if possible but can be portrayed as an expectation rather than a requirement, emphasising the length of time / cost / amount of work required to recruit someone vs the length of time that volunteers would need to feel like they had made a difference and gained something from the experience.
Avoid using language that matches the employer / employee situation such as ‘contract’, ‘job’, ‘payment’ or ‘job description’. These words should be replaced by ‘agreement’, ‘role’ and ‘reimbursement of expenses’ and ‘role description’.
If you wish your volunteer to sign a document outlining their obligations, make sure that it is an ‘agreement’ which outlines mutual expectations and not a legally binding ‘contract’. You could spell out the fact that volunteers and / or the Trust can cancel the arrangement at any time.
This is of relevance in a poor economic climate when paid staff may be made redundant and departments are keen to have volunteers to assist. You need to ensure that volunteers do not end up substituting for paid roles. You should also avoid applying all the same policies / procedures (for example disciplinary or appraisal) as are used with paid staff as these are likely to be too formal anyway and will also blur the lines between volunteers and staff.
For more information about how to avoid creating a ‘contract’ please contact your local NAVSM hub