Volunteering and the Law


Volunteering and the Law


Organizations that engage volunteers have specific legal and moral obligations to their community, clients, staff and volunteers. Are volunteers treated as paid employees, under specific laws? Do organizations have the same obligations to volunteers as employers do to paid employees? Volunteer screening is one example of an obligation that applies to all those involved in an organization, regardless of their employment status. Volunteer screening policies aim to better match people and organizations. These policies are put in place to improve the safety and quality of community services. They are also meant to reduce risks and liability for all parties.

Where do organizations go to find out what the law requires them to do? In our 2012 Edition of the Screening Handbook, 'Appendix A – Legislative Profiles' breaks down public legislation by each province and territory.

The regulatory framework for Canadian non-profit and charitable organizations is complex, as illustrated below.


August 18, 2022

Statement by Volunteer Canada 

Over four years after the start of the class action lawsuit, an Ontario court has approved a settlement between individuals who led guided travel tours for students and the for-profit company that organized the tours.

The individuals argued that they were misclassified as volunteers while performing work akin to tasks that employees would perform. The Court’s decision can be found here.

Volunteer Canada believes the Court’s settlement approval serves as an important reminder that making a clear distinction between volunteers and employees is crucial to ensuring equity and decent work for both paid workers and volunteers.

Volunteers play an important role in supporting the work of nonprofit organizations, contributing their time and expertise to build community by raising awareness, supporting special events, raising funds, participating in program and service-delivery, organizational capacity building and strategic leadership. Organizations and employers need to ensure they properly define and classify employees and volunteers and recognize when work should be paid.

As an organization that promotes and encourages volunteerism, we believe in strengthening the recognition and understanding of the role and impact of volunteers within charities and nonprofits and we also strongly believe in ensuring decent work across the sector. Learn more about the distinctions between volunteers and paid workers and steps that nonprofits, funders and governments can take to protect the rights of volunteers and paid workers in this publication by Ontario Nonprofit Network here.

Screening Handbook

  • 2012 Edition of the Screening Handbook — This resource outlines best practices for volunteer screening. The handbook details the obligations of organizations in terms of minimizing risk and liability through screening practices.