Are volunteers protected under the Employment Standards Act, 2000?

Are volunteers protected under the Employment Standards Act, 2000?

Volunteers offer their time to both support the community and gain knowledge about a cause without the expectation of pay. Volunteering is popular among students because it is an opportunity to use what they have learned in a classroom and translate that knowledge into a tangible and realistic experience, while also providing valuable assistance to a particular group.

Under the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA), volunteers are not considered an employee. The ESA does not defend volunteers, independent contractors, or anyone else who cannot be defined as an employee.

However, someone can still be an employee and be labelled as a volunteer, which would be protected under the ESA. To be treated as a volunteer under the ESA, one would need to identify whether they are a “true volunteer” – well, what does this mean?

There are two important characteristics that differentiate an employee and a true volunteer. First, how much the person is helping the business, and second, whether the person is executing their job with the intention of earning a living.

For example, there are normally both volunteers and employees working at a soup kitchen at the same time. There could be both an employee and volunteer working as cooks that have been there every week for the past 3 months. What could differentiate them is that the employee is working part-time to help pay their living expenses, versus a volunteer who will contribute until the end of the school year with the intention of learning valuable insights for future schooling and potential future career.

Further, whether compensation is provided or not, does not qualify them in or out of being a volunteer. Just because a person is paid does not mean they are an employee, and just because no payments were provided does not characterize this person as a volunteer.

To guarantee that an employer is legally hiring a volunteer and not an employee is to ensure their agreement states that the work will be unpaid, their role is to gain learning experience, their role is different than the hired employees, they are guaranteed a flexible schedule, and they are not promised a job once they finish volunteering.

If you are an employer needing to craft agreements for potential volunteers, please contact KCY at LAW by filling in an online consultation request or contact us by phone at 905-639-0999 to book your consultation today.