There are different laws that cover different kinds of workers. This section briefly summarises the differences between volunteers, employees and independent contractors and explains your organisation’s obligations and potential liability in relation to these different kinds of workers.
Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, s 16 (definition of “volunteer”), s 19(3) (“volunteer worker”); Human Rights Act 1993, s 2 (“employer”)
The word “volunteer” is generally used to mean someone who chooses to work for the good of the community or some public benefit, and who isn’t paid or otherwise rewarded and doesn’t expect to be.
Some of the laws that protect employees apply also to volunteers. For example, if your organisation employs any staff, it will owe health and safety duties not only to its employees but also to some regular volunteers (see the chapter “Employment conditions and protections”, under “Health and safety protections”).
Organisations that aren’t employers owe their volunteers a general duty of care under the common law (laws made by the courts).
An organisation will be liable (responsible) under civil law for the negligence or other torts (civil wrongs) of a volunteer who is acting in the course of his or her activities on the organisation’s behalf. Your organisation should therefore take all reasonable care when taking on volunteers for specialist or expert roles. To find out more information about volunteers, click here.
Employment Relations Act 2000, s 6
An employee is any person employed under an employment agreement, whether full-time, part-time or on a casual basis. The term includes home-workers.
The distinction between an employee and an independent contractor (see below) is important, as employers have many legal obligations to their employees, but not to contractors.
An organisation will be liable under civil law for the negligence or other torts (civil wrongs) of an employee who is acting in the course of their employment. Your organisation should therefore take all reasonable care when employing professional and expert staff.
An independent contractor is someone who’s in business on their own account. They’re usually not protected by the Employment Relations Act and the other employment-related Acts.
Your organisation generally won’t be liable for the wrongful acts or omissions of an independent contractor, unless the contractor had actual or apparent authority to act on its behalf (see “Laws you may need to know about / Contracts / Authority to enter into contracts” in this chapter).
In general, your organisation’s obligations towards an independent contractor will depend on the particular terms of the organisation’s contract with the person.