Are we liable for the actions of ‘spontaneous volunteers’, for example, people who turn up to an event and just start helping out?

Possibly. There is no legal definition of a ‘volunteer’ – some organisations have a structured volunteering program, while others engage with members of the community in an ad hoc way when they offer to help out at an event or activity. An organisation with a formal relationship with its volunteers through a structured volunteer program, for example, may more likely to be considered legally responsible if one of its volunteers sexually harasses or discriminates against another person.

Where a volunteer-involving organisation allows a person to provide a service on its behalf, it may be liable if that volunteer discriminates against another person while providing that service. This will depend on the circumstances, but letting someone help out can be a sufficient connection to your organisation for you to be liable for their behaviour. Consider how you may have ‘authorised’ their participation – for example, by not stopping them from doing certain activities. You don’t need to have an ongoing relationship with them to be liable for their behaviour.

If you need more information, please contact the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission.
Enquiry Line: 1300 292 153
Telephone: 1300 891 848
Fax: 1300 891 858
TTY: 1300 289 621

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