If your organization takes advantage of a dedicated, unpaid labor force (volunteers), 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 compensationCother than reasonable reimbursement or allowance for expensesCin 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.

To limit the legal exposure of your organization and its volunteers:

1. -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

2. Promptly investigate and respond to any complaints or concerns regarding a volunteer’s actions.

3. Secure insurance protection for your volunteers, as well as your staff, officers, and directors.

The material in this publication is based on work supported by the U.S. Small Business Administration under cooperative agreement SBAHG-04-S-0001. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Updated May 2006
George Hannye