Volunteers and the Law

I attended one of the (brilliant) free training sessions from the Museum of London’s Museum Development (@londonmusdev on twitter) Training programme and learned an extensive, complex and considered insight into the best practice of volunteer management legality. The session was held in the learning studio’s of the Museum of London’s site, aimed primarily at smaller organisations, but opened up to all. The intention of the Museum of London’s Museum Development Training programme is to improve best practice amongst the sector and create a peer-to-peer network of the sector’s volunteer managers.

Separated into categories of: Contracts, GDPR, Health and Safety and safeguarding, and recruitment (particularly surrounding those receiving benefits, those with a criminal record and those with a refugee status). The talk was immersive – using case studies and group discussions to keep us all awake in an unusual heatwave in central London.

Contracts are incredibly important when it comes to volunteer management. Of course, I had considered the complexities of such a fixed document in an otherwise flexible role, but the talk certainly brought this to the forefront of my mind. For example, how the contract is worded makes a big difference. Integrally, the usual ‘minimum commitment’ needs to be explicitly an expectation not an obligation, as well as to reiterate whenever appropriate that any ‘reasonable expectations’ are not contractual obligations. Case studies were particularly important in this part of the session, with Mark Restall showing us examples of where this has gone badly wrong – if a contract appears too close to an employment document, volunteers can become workers or employees in the eyes of the law.

The session also touched upon everyones leat favourite topic, GDPR and Data Management. Mark reiterated the importance of being able to demonstrate the need to hold volunteer data, to be aware of where it is held and the measures taken to keep it secure. He also importantly touched upon the need to have an explicit privacy notice for volunteers, stating this lawful purpose for needing information, that this consent must be ‘freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous’ how it is used and to inform volunteers how to dispute is they have questions. I took away from the session the need to improve the ‘problem solving’ procedure, which is all so expected in the formal paid employment sector, but perhaps less so in the volunteer sector.

The main thing I took from the session was that the legal best practice of volunteer management in the museum sector is actually not as intimidating as it first appears. Mark Restall made the topic surprisingly accessible, perhaps even almost engaging – which is no mean feat when it comes to the intricacies of law!

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