FAQs for Volunteer Managers
No. Informal volunteering groups are often established to fill a short term or emergency need, although some may continue to operate for a number of years. Informal groups are often effective at responding to issues in local communities and neighbourhoods. It is important to understand that volunteers helping through unincorporated organisations are not eligible for civil protections for volunteers under WA legislation. There is also typically a lack policies and procedures and training and an inability to secure Personal Accident Insurance for volunteers. For this reason, unincorporated volunteer groups are not eligible for membership of Volunteering WA. To find out more about informal volunteering, and some of the issues to consider to help you, your volunteers and the community safe, please see our Guide to Informal Volunteering (PDF).
Volunteers in WA are covered by the Volunteers and Food and other Donors (Protection from Liability) Act 2002 which protects:
- volunteers from civil liability when undertaking community work on a voluntary basis; and
- volunteers who donate food or grocery products from incurring civil liability for personal injury resulting from the consumption of that food or the use of those grocery products.
The legislation includes a number of requirements to be met including that the voluntary work is undertaken for a local government or an incorporated association. Volunteers must act in accordance with directions from these organisations in carrying out their role and should not be impaired (such as under the influence of alcohol or other drugs). In addition, volunteers make up a large proportion of Australia’s workforce.
So much of the legislation that pertains to employees in a workplace – such as worker health and safety, privacy, bullying and harassment, discrimination etc. – applies equally to volunteers. There may also be industry specific legislation for sectors such as working with children, disability services, aged care etc. that may have additional provisions that apply to volunteers.
We recommend the NFP Law National Volunteer Guide as a good starting place to understand the legislative requirements that may apply to your organisation. In addition, the National Standards for Volunteer Involvement provides good practice guidance for all volunteer organisations.
These documents provide general advice only. You may need legal or other professional advice to address any specific queries for your organisation.
All Volunteer Involving Organisations should have a set of Policies and Procedures for everyone to follow. This makes everything consistent for all and enables effective volunteer management. You should provide as much detail as needed to cover potential incidents before they arise.
Volunteer Handbooks should contain any relevant information about the organisation, as well as, orientation information, occupational health and safety measures, and a brief history of the organisation. Basically, a Handbook should contain all the information the volunteer needs “on-the-job” without being too overwhelming.
Keep your Policies and Procedures as a separate document that is easily accessible for all volunteers and staff, but you might like to include the most important or relevant policies in the Handbook.
Volunteering WA has a sample Policies and Procedures Manual that can be customised and used by any organisation. We have a network of organisations similar to yours so if you are looking for something specific please email us at VIOhelp@volunteeringwa.org.au.
This toolkit contains a variety of resources to help with running a volunteer program in a sport or recreation context. These resources have been created to assist as many clubs and associations as possible, and therefore are general in nature. If a document or template does not reflect the nature of your club, please update the text for use within your club. Please view the tool kit.
It is a requirement of membership with Volunteering WA that all Volunteer Involving Organisations have appropriate insurance for volunteers.
Public Liability insurance protects you up to a stated amount if a third party sues your organisation for personal injury (including death), or damage to property as a result of an occurrence in connection with your organisation.
Volunteer Personal Accident insurance is like Worker’s Compensation for volunteers. It can provide cover for people who become sick or injured while volunteering and may cover a portion of a person’s salary if they cannot attend their usual paid work as a result of an injury while volunteering.
Please make sure you know your insurance details when becoming a member of Volunteering WA and make sure you keep the details up-to-date on VIKTOR.
Volunteering WA also encourages organisations to consider the need for additional Association / Directors’ insurance.
No. This is why it is important that your organisation is covered for Volunteer Personal Accident Insurance, which may cover a portion of a person’s salary if they cannot attend their usual paid work as a result of an injury while volunteering.
Reference checking may be part of the overall screening and selection process undertaken when recruiting volunteers.
The reference checking process helps build a picture of your potential volunteer. Part of your due diligence when taking on new volunteers is to ensure “consistency” between their CV or application form, what they have said in the interview and what the referee says. Any inconsistencies should be questioned and discussed with the candidate.
If you work with vulnerable clients you have an extra duty of care and reference checking should be part of a comprehensive checking process.
Be mindful that Privacy Laws prevent you from talking with someone about a candidate without their permission so make sure you ask for several relevant Referees in case some aren’t available.
The National Standards advise that screening policies and procedures should align with non- discriminatory practices and that:
- Volunteer screening requirements are documented, applied and meet legislative requirements
- Volunteer reference checks are undertaken as appropriate to the role
- Guidelines are applied to determining the types of convictions or disciplinary actions that preclude people from becoming volunteers, and to informing people about how their personal history may be used for decision making.
Police checks may be required by legislation for some volunteer roles (such as volunteers in aged care or disability services). It is important to understand the requirements that apply to your industry or volunteer roles.
Members of Management Committees of Incorporated Associations in WA may not be appointed if they have committed some offences (such as fraud, dishonesty, been declared bankrupt etc.). Police checks may be helpful to determine if there are any legal barriers impacting the legal suitability of a volunteer in these roles.
In other instances, VIOs should assess the nature of the role and the risk to consider if Police Checks are required.
For some low risk roles (e.g. not involving finances or working with vulnerable groups) with adequate supervision and training, Police Checks may not be required.
Over-reliance on Police Checks not required by legislation may discriminate against a potential volunteer, if it is not relevant to the role being filled.
The Department of Communities and the WA Police Force have established a program enabling eligible WA volunteering organisations to provide their volunteers with a National Police Check for a concessional fee. For more information visit the WA Government website. Not that this concessional fee is not available for volunteers seeking the check, even if reimbursed by VIOs.
Yes, this is a legal requirement in Western Australia for most volunteers who will be working with children.
Some general exemptions include:
- work carried out on a voluntary basis by a child;
- work carried out on an unpaid basis by a student under 18 years of age; and
- parents volunteering in certain activities where their child is also involved or participates (unless attending an overnight activity).
The relevant criteria in the legislation is extensive and very specific. The State Government Working with Children website provides information to assist.
Volunteering WA recommends that the advertisement and role description highlight any need for volunteers to undertake these checks as part of the screening process and that VIOs reimburse for the costs of these checks.
Working with Children Checks are a part of the screening process for volunteers.
Having clear policies regarding the need to protect children (and other vulnerable groups), undertaking reference checking and interviews and provide adequate induction, training and supervision are also important.
Working with Children Checks are for a defined period (generally three years). They are not transferable between States or Territories.
Yes. Volunteering WA recommends creating detailed, specific position descriptions, so that potential volunteers are clear on the expectations of a position. If a person is not suitable, perhaps there is another position within the organisation that would be perfect.
There are a number of issues to consider when looking at engaging minors (children under 18 years of age) in a volunteer role.
While there is no legal requirement to obtain a parent or guardian’s consent, this is considered good practice, where possible.
Similarly, there are provisions in WA governing the employment of children under 15 years of age. While these do not apply to volunteers, they provide some guidance for considerations such as:
- Limiting the time of day or duration of volunteering (e.g. hours in a week)
- Not to interfere with a child’s participation in education or training
- Consider appropriate working conditions that promote their health and safety.
Your volunteer policies and procedures should expressly consider risks and issues associated with the involvement of child volunteers. Organisations should provide appropriate safeguards including adequate supervision, appropriate roles and review to ensure children are benefitting from their involvement.
For young people over 18 years of age, VIOs are encouraged to adapt traditional roles to encourage participation. This may include breaking a larger role into a number of smaller ones or supporting episodic or short term volunteering.
Volunteering WA encourages all VIOs to review any conditions of their Volunteer Accident Policies with your broker, to ensure all volunteers are adequately covered.
Any volunteers who do not have permanent residency in Australia need to ensure they are keeping within the law and abiding by their Visa restrictions. It is important that you make sure that the person can legally undertake volunteer work on their particular visa. Generally if the person has the right to work in Australia, they generally have the right to volunteer.
Yes. Training helps volunteers to be more confident in their duties, and also makes them feel like an important part of the organisation. Training can also be a significant tool for retention of volunteers. In volunteer reviews, it’s a good idea to ask volunteers if there is any further training they require and attempt to provide it.
Yes. However, an organisation should always have a thorough set of volunteer Policies and Procedures to ensure that each situation is dealt with appropriately and quickly. Volunteer Involving Organisations should always include Grievance Policies for volunteers and organisations, and have an appropriate system to deal with issues.
Volunteers should also be made aware of that which is considered inappropriate behaviour within the organisation.
Yes. Many volunteer organisations are subject to the Fair Work Act 2009 (C’th) which has provisions regarding bullying behaviour.
Under this legislation, workplace bullying occurs when:
- A person, or a group of people, repeatedly behaves unreasonably towards a worker or a group of workers at work, and
- The behaviour creates a risk to health and safety.
In addition, the Occupational Health and Safety Act 1984 (WA) creates and obligation for most volunteer organisations to create and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to health.
There is also a common law responsibility to take reasonable care to protect volunteers from injury, which could include bullying.
Having in place and communicating policies that establish expectations for volunteer behaviours, a respectful and constructive organisational culture, opportunities to raise issues promptly and informally if any concerns arise and formal grievance processes are essential to protect your volunteers and your organisation.
The application of the legal statutes to different organisations can be complex. Legal advice may be required in the event that a dispute escalates.
Sometimes volunteers become less able to fulfill their duties in an organisation. Changes in the workplace, their duties or their personal ability and interest can all impact their effectiveness. It is best not to ignore this fact. Speak frankly but politely to the volunteer and suggest a change in duties if appropriate.
Legal information is available from Not-For-Profit Law (www.nfplaw.org.au). They have great resources including videos that address a range of concerns raised by organisations.
Volunteer personnel records, like other staff records, have to be kept for seven years. They can then be archived. These records are confidential and need to be kept in a locked room or cabinet. This is part of the Privacy Legislation which covers volunteers. Access to the files should be limited only to those who need to know.
The WA State Government has enacted the Work Health and Safety Act 2020 and regulations.
The legislation will apply to volunteer organisations which employ at least one person. This resource provides more information on the WA legislation from Worksafe WA. View a summary of the legislation (PDF).
Worksafe WA has also produced a Work health and safety for volunteer organisations guide (PDF).
The WA legislation is based on a set of harmonised WHS standards across Australia. Safe Work Australia has developed a guide for organisations and volunteer managers on key steps to ensure volunteer safety.
In return for receiving taxpayer-funded income support from the Australian Government, unemployed people have mutual obligation requirements.
Some of the obligations may be met through volunteering.
The National Standards for Volunteer Involvement indicate that an organisation that involves volunteers should ensure that a policy and procedure exists for reimbursement for volunteer out-of-pocket expenses.
This varies from organisation to organisation and there is no set rule. Where financially feasible, organisations should provide reasonable reimbursements for pre-approved out-of-pocket expenses. This removes the potential for these costs to be a barrier to volunteering.
Any questions not covered in this section can be directed to our VIOHelp desk at VIOhelp@volunteeringwa.org.au..