An electronic publication of Pfau Englund Nonprofit Law, P.C.
Disclaimer: This publication is designed to provide accurate information in regard to the subject matter covered. However, it is not intended to provide legal or other professional advice. If legal advice is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought.
Volunteer Liability and the Volunteer Protection Act of 1997
According to INDEPENDENT SECTOR’S latest research, nearly 100 million United States citizens volunteer each yearundefinedthat’s almost 50% of our country’s population. If your organization takes advantage of this dedicated, unpaid labor force, you should be aware of how to protect both your organization and your volunteers from legal claims.
The Volunteer Protection Act of 1997 removes volunteers (any individual performing services for a nonprofit organization or governmental entity who does not receive compensationundefinedother than reasonable reimbursement or allowance for expensesundefinedin excess of $500 per year) from liability for negligent acts or omissions committed while acting within the scope of their duties as volunteers. The Act does not, however, relieve a volunteer from all responsibility for his or her actions. Specifically, the Act does not protect volunteers if their acts or omissions result from:
- willful or criminal misconduct
- gross negligence
- reckless misconduct
- conscious, flagrant indifference to the rights or safety of the individual the volunteer harms
In addition, the Act does not cover volunteers if the harm is caused by the operation of a motor vehicle, vessel, aircraft, or other vehicle for which the state requires an operating license or insurance. Also, any misconduct that constitutes a crime of violence, a hate crime, a sexual offense, or violates a federal or state civil right law is not protected by the Act. Finally, the volunteer is not protected if he or she was under the influence of intoxicating alcohol or any drug at the time of misconduct.
Also, be sure to find out if your state has made any changes to the Act. States can preempt the Act if they have other laws that provide volunteers with additional liability protection or opt out of coverage under the federal law. States also have the authority to (1) require nonprofit organizations to provide mandatory training for volunteers; (2) be liable for the acts or omissions of their volunteers to the same extent that they are liable for their employees and agents; and/or (3) carry insurance for individuals who may be harmed by volunteers.
To limit the legal exposure of your organization and its volunteers:
Treat your volunteers like you treat your paid staff
- Develop volunteer position descriptions
- Use and carefully screen volunteer applications
- Train and closely supervise your volunteers
Promptly investigate and respond to any complaints or concerns regarding a volunteer’s actions.
Secure insurance protection for your volunteers, as well as your staff, officers, and directors.
Nonprofit QuickTipsSM is a periodic electronic publication of Pfau Englund Nonprofit Law, P.C. It is intended to provide nonprofit executives with useful, quick legal tips. If you have a topic you would like covered in this publication, or know someone who would like to be added to our e-mail list, please contact the firm.