Cynthia Lazar answers labour & employment questions in The Globe and Mail.


I have been tasked by my supervisor to find volunteers for three-hour shifts greeting guests at a regular monthly event that my company will host. Greeting will only be done by volunteers. While a portion of proceeds from the event will go to charity, our company is not a non-profit organization. I believe we should be paying greeters, but my supervisor says we don't have the budget. Is it legal for us to use volunteers for this type of work?


Cynthia Lazar, lawyer and workplace investigator, Taylor McCaffrey LLP, Winnipeg

Generally speaking, employment standards legislation does not apply to volunteers. This means that minimum standards relating to things such as wages and hours of work do not apply. Unfortunately, there is little clear guidance as to who is or is not a volunteer.

In Manitoba, the Employment Standards Regulation provides that theEmployment Standards Code does not apply to an employee who works as a volunteer for "a charitable or political organization." In your example, it is somewhat unclear as to whether the volunteer is working for your company or for the charity being supported.

The Ontario government's guidance states "the main factors that determine whether someone is a volunteer or an employee are (a) how much the business or person benefits from the individual's services; and (b) how much the individual views the arrangement as being in pursuit of a living." In your example, the benefit to your company is unclear, but hopefully, the volunteers are aware they will not be paid.

Other provinces have similar legislation and/or guidance.

To avoid the risk of getting this wrong, while still achieving the aims of the program, the safest plan is to have the beneficiary charity provide the volunteers for the program. Your company's employees may volunteer, but it would be through the charity. Employees should know this is voluntary and not a work requirement. People should volunteer, not be volun-told.

If there is a union at your workplace, other rules may apply, and you should consult with your union representative.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.