Volunteers are often found in not-for-profit organisations and projects undertaken to benefit the community. People can offer their services without payment voluntarily, to assist a not-for-profit organisation’s goals.

Genuine volunteers are not employees. For a voluntary arrangement to be genuine there must be no intention between an employer and employee to create an employment relationship. This means that a volunteer must agree that they will not be paid for any work performed. The arrangement must be at the volunteer’s own free will and there cannot be any element of coercion in the relationship.


Franko works part-time in the financial sector, and decides that he wants to volunteer some of his time working with his local community. He approaches a soup kitchen run by his local church to enquire about volunteering to prepare food and provide free meals in the soup kitchen that is run for the homeless in his local area.

Franko fills in an application form, and meets with the volunteer coordinator, who explains the roles and responsibilities of the volunteers and explains that the work is not paid.

Franko agrees to enter into this arrangement at his own free will, knowing that he will not receive payment for his time with this not-for-profit organisation. With these details made clear up front, Franko and the organisation are acknowledging that Franko is volunteering his time without expectation of payment. Neither party have the intention to enter into an employment relationship and on these facts it is unlikely that one exists.    

If a person offers their services to a business to gain work experience it is necessary to consider whether they are an employee of the business or a volunteer. You will find further information about making this determination on the Student placements, work experience and internships page.

Note: A business and person can’t simply characterise what is actually an employment relationship as volunteer work simply by labelling it as a ‘volunteer arrangement’. Whether it is a genuine and legitimate volunteer arrangement will depend on the details of the situation, in particular whether or not there was an intention to create an employment relationship. An unpaid work trial, or other type of work, can’t be disguised as a voluntary arrangement.

Determining whether a volunteer arrangement is genuine will depend on the individual circumstances of each arrangement and can involve complex legal issues. If you have any questions or concerns about your situation, you can Contact us for assistance.

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Page last updated: 08 Dec 2011