The National Council for Voluntary Organisations has cautioned against the introduction of potentially "burdensome" legislation that could result in volunteers being given the ability to take charities to employment tribunals.
The Government Equalities Office has recently concluded a consultation on a range of proposals for protecting people from workplace sexual harassment, including extending equality legislation so it covers volunteers as well as paid staff.
The change would for the first time allow volunteers and interns to bring claims of discrimination or harassment against charities.
The consultation paper said volunteers and interns could be particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment in the workplace and noted that the main way of addressing harassment cases was through the employment tribunal or county courts.
The NCVO warned at the time that the proposed change would represent a "huge shift" for charities.
The umbrella body has today published its response to the consultation, which says it fully supports moves to tackle harassment of any sort.
But it says members were concerned that the consultation "prioritises a complex and burdensome legislative route that doesn’t take account of the sector’s existing good practice".
It says charities are already subject to a number of regulatory requirements in terms of their treatment and protection of volunteers, as well as having their own codes of conduct to create positive environments for their volunteers.
"There is a concern that changes to the legal framework are not the right way to strengthen protections for volunteers: the risk is that charity resources would need to be diverted from continuous improvements in practices and culture to having to build compliance mechanisms for the new rules," it says.
It says that government would be better off supporting the sector in its "continuous journey of self-improvement in this area".
Should the government still want to pursue a legislative route around strengthening protections for volunteering, the NCVO says it would be better achieved by including a section about volunteers in the part of the equality act that provides protection from discrimination for members of clubs and other bodies.
"This would enable volunteers to bring county court claims for discrimination, harassment and victimisation in respect of their treatment from the point of applying to volunteer through to any ‘detriment’ broadly experienced at the hands of the organisation, including any detriment after the relationship had ended which was connected to the relationship," it says.
"The reason for taking such an approach is that it could be said that choosing to volunteer for a particular cause may be more closely aligned to membership of an association than employment."