Safe Volunteering: The Ups And Downs Of Corporate Social Responsibility

Employee volunteering is a relatively new concept in Ireland, but for many years companies across the world have recognised their responsibilities to their stakeholders and the impact that they have on the local community through their CSR practices. Given the risks that are involved with certain volunteering activities, it is imperative that employers know the extent of their duties and responsibilities, in respect of health and safety, toward employees engaging in employer endorsed volunteering projects.

Volunteering - Scope of employment

Whether employee volunteering comes within the scope of an employee's employment will depend on the facts of the case. Of course, it may be very easy to determine if volunteering is outside the scope of employment such as when employees volunteer on their own time in the evening or weekends. But consider the situation where an employer has a partnership with a charity and provides opportunities for employees to volunteer in the evening or weekends? Does the employer - employee relationship still exist in this context?

Responsibility to Employees

There are two main considerations for organisations who allow their employees to act as volunteers. Firstly, there is the common law "duty of care" and secondly, there are statutory obligations.

Common Law

Employers have a duty of care to their employees under common law. The modern concept of the duty of care owed by an employer to an employee was established in the case of Wilson and Clyde Coal Company Ltd v English [1937] 3 All ER 628. This case held that an employer owes a "duty of care" to his employees, which was personal to the employer and not capable of delegation. This duty includes:

the provision of a safe place of work a safe system of work competent staff proper equipment It must be borne in mind that the duty is not an absolute one - an employer will have discharged their duty of care of care to their employees if they do "what a reasonable and prudent employer would have done in the circumstances" – Bradley v CIE [1976] I.R. 217.

Statutory Obligations - General Duties

The main piece of health and safety legislation in Ireland is the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 2005. This sets out the general duties of employers, self-employed and people in control of premises have towards their employees and others who may be effected by work activities. It also gives employees the general duty to ensure the health and safety of themselves and others...

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