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What about liability in voluntary work?

Publication date: 3 January 2018
A volunteer is not an employee. But what if accidents occur during voluntary work? Is the organisation for which the volunteer performs services liable or not?

aansprakelijkheid vrijwilligers

A recent case dealt with a volunteer who, as a member of a group that performed odd jobs in a parish, had to install lights on a church roof. During the installation he fell off the roof which caused paraplegia, among other things. Does the parish have to pay for the damage?

Employer liability and duty of care

Based on the statutory duty of care, an employer is liable in the event of work accidents. The employer has to ensure a safe and healthy working environment. He has to take measures to make sure that his employees are not injured during their activities. In the event of work accidents, the employer is in principle responsible. The employer will have to pay for the damage, unless the employee has acted with intent or deliberately reckless.

Duty of care also for non-employees

This protection also applies to persons who are in a position similar to employees. This is the case when persons perform activities outside employment but regarding the duty of their safety are partially dependent on those they perform activities for, for instance self-employed persons (zzp’ers). It needs to be looked at whether the ‘employer’ has an influence on the working conditions and the security risks involved.

Does this duty of care also apply to volunteers? The case concerned dealt with a volunteer that was a member of a group performing odd jobs in a parish. In addition to volunteers, the parish also employed ordinary employees. In principle, the parish could have asked one of the employees to install the lighting. The pastor or chaplain might not be the first persons that will be asked to climb a roof, but a skilful sexton might have managed to do the job. Therefore, the volunteer is in a position similar to an employee and is dependent on the safety measures taken by the parish. Now that the volunteer is being involved in accident he has the right to the same protection as an ordinary employee. That means, the ‘employer’ is liable for damage the volunteer suffers.

What does that mean for you?

Organisations have a duty of care to all persons that work for their benefit. Therefore, you have an obligation to ensure that your volunteers can work safely and you have to take the measures needed to do so. In addition, when taking out insurance take into account that the necessary cover is provided for any damage that might occur to the volunteers. After all, you wouldn’t want your volunteers to become the victims of their unpaid efforts for your organisation. Should you nevertheless be confronted with liability for breach of the duty of care, our specialists have extensive experience and will gladly assist you. Please contact:

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