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Update | Volunteering and employment: an absolute incompatibility?

Can the same person simultaneously cover the role of worker and volunteer at the same organization? With the Memorandum no. 4011 of 10/03/2022, the Italian Ministry of Labour replied in the affirmative, underlining that, in certain cases, there is no incompatibility between the two figures.

The reasoning and the interpretation of art. 17, para. 5, of the Italian Third Sector Code set out in the aforementioned note are particularly interesting, if we consider that there is, in general terms, an incompatibility between the function of volunteer and any form of subordinate, autonomous or paid employment relationship with the body of which the volunteer is a member or associate or through which he/she carries out his/her activity.

Volunteering and paid work incompatible in principle.

As also expressed in a previous Memorandum of the Italian Ministry of Labour (no. 2088 of 27/02/2020), in the Third Sector Organizations there is a wide-ranging and generalized incompatibility between the quality of volunteer (without distinction between stable and occasional volunteer) and that of worker.

This incompatibility between the two cases sanctioned by art. 17 of the Italian Third Sector Code underlines, in fact, the fundamental difference between:

  • Volunteering: an activity aimed at satisfying the needs of others, for the benefit of the community and the common good, and for this reason not subject to any compulsory obligation and cannot be paid (the volunteer thus expresses his/her personal, spontaneous, free and non-profit, even indirectly, free choice);
  • Paid work: a productive activity, characterized by and oriented toward specific interests, particularly that of obtaining compensation in return.

In other words, these are the elements that will allow to verify, in practice, if we are in the presence of any abuse related to an incorrect use of volunteer work that, in some cases, results in a real exploitation of volunteers instead of paid labour staff. In all cases where the service rendered does not have the characteristics of volunteering, the subject may request the requalification of the employment relationship within the organization.

The specific case of an organization composed of several committees organized in a network.

With the recent answer to an interpellation (n. 4011 of 10/03/2022), the Italian Ministry of Labour has specified that the general principle of incompatibility between volunteering and paid work must be evaluated considering the concrete organization of the body and its overall structure. In this sense, there will be no incompatibility if the structure in which the person does voluntary work is independent from the one in which he/she works and is paid, from an organizational, administrative, patrimonial and accounting point of view, as well as from a statutory perspective.

For this reason, in the present case, the same person could continue to carry out both the employment relationship with a given regional committee of a given organization and the voluntary activity with the same basic organization or another regional committee of a different region, even within the same national network.

In the presence of elements determining the autonomy between the two structures, the two entities that benefit from the services of the same person, one in the guise of a worker and the other in the guise of a volunteer, are essentially distinct and separate subjects.

In some ways, the case history highlighted tend to mitigate the rigidity of the separation between volunteer work and paid work as outlined in the regulations applicable to the Third Sector, often evoked by those who act within this field.


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