We encourage all volunteer involving organisations to review their risk assessments in light of the new medical advice. This should include considering the feasibility of remote working, wearing masks in indoor settings, and encouraging volunteers to stay home if they are sick. This resource provides useful information to safeguard your volunteers during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
For more information about any of the below please contact your State or Territory volunteering peak body.
For a list of resources related to COVID-19 and volunteering visit our COVID-19 Resources page. This page includes the Responding to a Pandemic: A Practical Guide for Volunteer Involving Organisations.
Adapting your volunteering programs
Volunteering Australia recommends adapting volunteering roles to minimise or remove face-to-face contact to reduce the risk of infection of COVID-19.
Adjustments to volunteering roles may include:
- Postponing volunteer work that cannot be done safely within COVID-19 requirements
- Moving volunteering online so volunteers can work from home
- Replacing face-to-face contact with telephone contact
- Ensuring volunteers wear masks and keep a distance of 1.5 metres during instances of face-to-face contact
- Reducing face-to-face contact to less than 15 minutes
Work Health and Safety Requirements
Volunteers are considered as ‘workers’ under Work Health and Safety (WHS) Laws and as such should be afforded the same considerations as a paid employee. Safe Work Australia has information on preparing workplaces for COVID-19.
Volunteering Australia recommends that due to the unpredictability of COVID-19, including limited measures available to control the spread of the virus, Volunteer Involving Organisations cease volunteering roles that cannot be done safely within COVID-19 requirements. This aligns with the Australian Government’s advice to practice social distancing.
If your organisation has one or more paid employees it is legally required to adhere to your jurisdiction’s relevant work, health and safety (WHS) laws. Under WHS legislation your organisation has an obligation to protect the physical and mental health wellbeing of your volunteers.
If your organisation decides to continue involving volunteers at this time, you are encouraged to seek independent legal advice about the measures you need to take to comply with WHS legislation.
If your organisation is entirely run by volunteers with no employees you are not legally obligated to adhere to work, health and safety legislation, but it is recommended you do so as a matter of best practice.
Volunteering Australia strongly recommends that Volunteer Involving Organisations seek advice from their insurer about the implications of the pandemic regarding their volunteer workforce if they choose to continue involving volunteers at this time. Please be aware this is a complex area and, as States and Territories lockdown and enact emergency legislation, advice may change.
Keeping Volunteers Safe
If your organisation decides to continue running programs and services that involve volunteers, it is imperative you take every measure possible to keep your volunteers safe in the workplace. This includes following all advice provided by the Australian and State and Territory Governments with regards to mask wearing, hygiene and social distancing. Where possible, consider how face-to-face contact can be lessened or removed altogether. Where face-to-face contact is an essential requirement, ensure your volunteers strictly comply with wearing of masks, handwashing and sanitising guidelines. Further, consider how you can assist service users to comply with guidelines to minimise the risk to your volunteers.
COVID-19 vaccinations are mandatory for workers (including volunteers) in some workplace settings. Please read our vaccination factsheet or refer to the Australian or State and Territory health departments for more information. Aside from these official mandates, if you are considering making COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for your employees and/or volunteers, then please seek legal advice. Justice Connect’s factsheet on Volunteers and the COVID-19 vaccine provides further advice.
Business Continuity and Risk Management Considerations
Volunteering Australia is urging all Volunteer Involving Organisations to prepare further for how COVID-19 will disrupt operations including updating or creating a business continuity plan. Several resources are available to help organisations undertake this planning. Visit your State or Territory volunteering peak body for further information.
Volunteering Australia also recommends your organisation revisit the risk management plan that governs your volunteering program/s to consider any new or heightened risks posed by COVID-19. When considering the risks posed by COVID-19 to your volunteers remember that volunteer insurance does not cover volunteers for illness and you may wish to obtain independent legal and insurance advice.
Relaxing contractual obligations
Volunteering Australia is recommending that Volunteer Involving Organisations contact their funding bodies to explain how their operations are being affected and to discuss their contractual obligations during this crisis.
Volunteering Australia is urging all funding bodies to relax their contractual requirements so that if a Volunteer Involving Organisation has to close or change their business operations due to COVID-19, they are not penalised for failing to meet their contractual obligations. Many Volunteer Involving Organisations are already having to operate with reduced volunteering capacity, and this is affecting their ability to meet contractual requirements.
The Department of Social Services has released information about COVID-19 to DSS Grant recipients including some useful frequently asked questions that you may have if you are a DSS grant recipient.