7 considerations for managing volunteer risk

November 1, 2015       The NonProfit Times      

With staffing and budgets tight, organizations’ leaders continue to look to volunteers to help fill in the blanks, opening the door for associated risks.

During “The Producers: Managing Risk in a Volunteer Program” at the 2015 Risk Summit, Brian Chase and Jackie Rucker Bohi, general counsel and senior manager of human resources and volunteer programs, respectively, for Found Animals Foundation provided seven considerations for preparing for volunteer risk.

It is important to note that individuals under the age of 18 generally cannot be bound by a contract. All participating minors should have volunteer agreements signed by a parent. With some schools requiring volunteer work, it may also be advisable to try to gauge young volunteers’ commitment to the program as opposed to their commitment to filling a requisite.

Make sure that you know what offense an individual assisting as part of community service has committed and make an informed decision whether or not that individual is appropriate for your program. It would be inappropriate, for instance, to have a person convicted of organizing dogfights serve at an animal shelter.

Consider pulling the traffic records of volunteers driving for your program. It should be confirmed that the volunteer has a valid drivers license and a copy should be kept. Work with your insurance broker to make sure that your organization is covered in the event of a car accident involving volunteers.

Background checks, though pricey, can save an organization from liability and embarrassment. It is particularly important to check volunteers assisting with organizational finances, handling cash or working with children, developmentally disabled adults or seniors.

Understand volunteer protection laws and how they apply in your home state. Such laws generally protect a volunteer who is acting within the scope of his or her volunteer duties from being sued. Note that these laws are designed to protect volunteers, not organizations utilizing volunteers.

Factor volunteers into harassment and discrimination policies. Volunteers have been allowed to sue organizations under federal antidiscrimination and anti-harassment laws typically used to protect employees. Organizations can also come under fire should a volunteer mistreat a customer or create a hostile work environment for employees.

Confirm that your insurance covers your volunteers just as it covers your employees. Work with your broker to make sure that your coverage is adequate. Organizations may also find it appropriate to include volunteers in workers compensation coverage. Workers compensation coverage prevents the injured party from suing for negligence.