A virtual volunteering job can be a lucrative alternative to volunteering for paid positions.
This week, the International Labor Organization (ILO) released its latest report on virtual volunteering and the risks involved.
The ILO says virtual volunteering can be used to provide unpaid, temporary work, but it says the potential risks are quite high.
The report recommends virtual volunteering be used for “high-value projects”.
The ILOs report says virtual volunteers are a useful tool for those who have little or no training, as they can work from home and don’t have to go to the site to meet workers.
But they are also used by people who are not prepared to work from a distance.
“The potential risks of virtual volunteering are quite serious,” says ILO Deputy Director John Deakin.
The report recommends that the employer provide training to workers and ensure they are “fully aware of the risks”.
Virtual volunteering can also be used as a means to circumvent pay scales.
For example, if a virtual volunteer has a small, low-paying job and then decides to take a paid job that pays more, the employer can use that virtual volunteer to take advantage of this loophole.
It’s possible to pay virtual volunteers to do unpaid work in an informal setting, but ILO warns that it is still illegal.
Virtual volunteering is illegal in many countries, and there is no national legislation covering virtual volunteering.
For instance, the ILO report says the UK does not currently regulate virtual volunteering, but virtual volunteering is also a violation of employment laws in several other countries, including the United States, Italy, South Africa, Canada, France, Australia, Germany and Japan.
The risks of online virtual volunteering include unpaid work and abuse.
“The risks of digital volunteering are very real,” says Deakin, adding that the ILOs findings on virtual volunteers show that it can be difficult to distinguish the real from the virtual.
“When people are working from home, they are in a much more remote and isolated environment than when they are working at a location,” he says.
“That can have serious consequences for them.”
While virtual volunteering should be used in a professional setting, it should also be avoided in an online environment, Deakin says.
This includes sites that allow users to share information, such as Facebook.
Virtual volunteers who post their personal details on a site that encourages or rewards the sharing of personal information are breaking the law.
This kind of work is also illegal, according to ILO, because it is illegal to discriminate against people based on their race, sex, age, disability or gender.
The UK has recently taken steps to improve virtual volunteering policies, including an online register to prevent virtual volunteering from being used as an exploitative method of recruitment.
“We encourage employers to use a careful approach to virtual volunteering,” says the ILo report.
“While virtual working may provide a valuable opportunity to engage with employees, there are many risks associated with it.”
More to follow