The Volunteers Protection Act 2001 (SA) provides some protection for volunteers doing community work from being sued for damage, loss or injury they may have caused to others during their volunteer work.
What protection is provided by the Volunteers Protection Act 2001?
Subject to some exceptions (see below) a volunteer doing 'community work' for a 'community organisation' is not liable for any damage, loss or injury they cause due to an act or omission done or made in good faith and without recklessness [Volunteers Protection Act 2001 (SA) s 4].
If someone experiences damage, loss or injury because of a volunteer doing community work, they can sue the organisation the volunteer works for. They can only sue the volunteer if it is clear the Volunteers Protection Act 2001 (SA) does not protect the volunteer, or if they have first sued the organisation, which then disputes it is liable.
Who is a volunteer?
A volunteer is someone who is not paid for the work they do.
Being reimbursed for expenses incurred carrying out voluntary work is not 'payment' [Volunteers Protection Regulations 2004 (SA) 4(1)(a)]. A monetary gift given in recognition of a volunteer's work (an honorarium) is also not payment, but the gift must be a 'true honorarium' - for example, it must not be relied on or expected by the volunteer as a source of income [Reg 4(2)].
A person carrying out work under the order of a court or as a condition of a bond is not regarded as a volunteer [Volunteers Protection Act 2001 (SA) s 3].
Are all volunteers in all organisations covered?
Only volunteers doing 'community work' for 'community organisations' are covered by the Act.
What is community work?
Community work is work done for any of the following purposes:
- for a religious, educational, charitable or benevolent purpose
- for promoting or encouraging literature, science or the arts
- for looking after, or providing medical treatment or attention for, people who need care because of a physical or mental disability or condition
- for sport, recreation or amusement
- for conserving resources or protecting the natural environment from harm
- for preserving historical or cultural heritage
- for a political purpose
- for protecting or promoting the common interests of the community generally or a particular section of the community.
[Volunteers Protection Act 2001 (SA) s 3]
These purposes are similar to those for which organisations can be incorporated under the Associations Incorporation Act 1985 (SA). However, not all organisations incorporated under that Act will have purposes that are included as 'community work' under the Volunteers Protection Act 2001. Just because an organisation is incorporated under the Associations Incorporation Act 1985 and considers itself to be involved in community work, its volunteers are not necessarily covered by the Volunteers Protection Act 2001 (SA).
What is a community organisation?
To be a 'community organisation' under the Volunteers Protection Act 2001 (SA), the organisation must:
- direct or co-ordinate the carrying out of community work by volunteers
- be incorporated – this could be as a community organisation under the Associations Incorporation Act 1985 (SA), or as a co-operative, or as a company; government departments and agencies are also included.
What exceptions are there to the protection from liability?
The protection from being sued provided by the Volunteers Protection Act 2001 (SA) does not cover:
- liability for defamation
- situations covered by compulsory third-party motor vehicle insurance (that is, where a volunteer was driving a car and was involved in an accident and someone was injured, the injured person follows the normal procedure for making a claim – see Personal Injuries)
- situations where the volunteer's ability to carry out the work properly was, at the relevant time, significantly impaired by a recreational drug (this includes alcohol)
- situations where the volunteer was acting, and knew or ought to have known they were acting, outside the scope of the activities authorised by the community organisation
- situations where the volunteer was acting, and knew or ought to have known they were acting, contrary to instructions given by the community organisation.
Some implications for community organisations with volunteers
Organisations should make the nature and scope of activities volunteers are authorised to engage in clear to volunteers. This will involve documentation and thorough induction and training.
Organisations should identify potential risks involved in the work of volunteers and take measures to minimise the risk of damage, loss or injury to others.
Community organisations that have volunteer workers should check their public liability insurance policies, or write to their insurer, to see whether they are covered for loss or injury caused by the negligence of their volunteer workers.
The content of the Law Handbook is made available as a public service for information purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for legal advice. See Disclaimer for details. For free and confidential legal advice in South Australia call 1300 366 424.