Unique risks non-profits face when they hire volunteers

It can be hard to determine exposure when no payroll exists

Unique risks non-profits face when they hire volunteers

Non-Profits & Charities

By Bethan Moorcraft

The United States is strengthened by the service of its volunteers, who are stepping up every single day to support their fellow citizens and change lives for the better. According to the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS)’s 2018 Volunteering in America report, 77.34 million adults (30.3%) volunteered through an organization last year, giving nearly 6.9 billion hours, worth an estimated $167 billion in economic value.

When non-profits hire volunteer workers to assist with their philanthropic work, they take on some unique risks. Volunteers typically have other jobs. If they get hurt and file a claim, it can be difficult to determine where the loss occurred. Did they injure their back while lifting some boxes at a food bank, or has this injury been a long time coming from their full-time job on a construction site?

It can also be difficult for non-profits to determine exposure for volunteer workers because no payroll exists. This might lead some non-profits into the trap of leaving hazard controls lax, or even non-existent, explained Julie Joves, area vice president of wholesale & workers’ compensation at Charity First Insurance Services, Inc.

“The most common issues arise with volunteers doing work that may not be typical for that non-profit business,” said Joves. “So, you have volunteers doing tasks that they may not have been trained to do properly. For example, you might have a volunteer working at a charity golf tournament who may not know how to drive a golf cart.

“When hiring volunteers, non-profit organizations should look for individuals who can handle any physical requirements. They should also look for people who understand the mission and goals of the non-profit. In terms of wider risk mitigation, non-profits should adopt all of the same processes and strategies as for-profit risks. Things like job safety training and injury and illness prevention programs don’t change when managing risk at a non-profit.”

Another big mistake non-profit organizations make when hiring volunteers is to give workers “a little something” in return for helping out. This is a common error, according to Joves, and can potentially transform the volunteers into employees. Essentially, they’re being paid for their services and could therefore demand the same response post-loss that an employee on the payroll might receive.

“Another common error among non-profits is not getting any insurance coverage for volunteers at all,” Joves told Insurance Business. “Also, sometimes non-profits forget to or choose not to collect signed volunteer waivers, which outlines the risks involved with specific volunteer work, explains the company’s expectations, and lists the necessary safety precautions. These waivers can help to prevent lawsuits should an incident occur with a volunteer worker.”

There are many potential hurdles that non-profit organizations can come up against if they hire volunteer workers. In this environment, Joves said it’s important not to assume anything when it comes to insurance coverage.     

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