Hows and whys of volunteer waivers

October 06, 2021 | SECURA Insurance

Waiver documents are important for both the non-profit organization and its volunteers. Each party must formalize the relationship and set expectations.

Below are a few risk management points to keep in mind. While these are good starting points, you should always have your attorney finalize your waiver documents to be sure they address all liability concerns and meet all legal requirements.

What should a volunteer waiver include?
  • A volunteer must acknowledge that your volunteers have no expectations of payment (monetary or other). Volunteers also must recognize that they do not qualify for employee benefits of any kind. If your organization has employees, the waiver must say that volunteers are not eligible for employment benefits.
  • It is important that the waiver place the decision to proceed on the individual. For instance, by signing the document, they are agreeing to the terms and freely choosing to formalize the agreement. It could even include language to indicate that individual activities are not required. In other words, giving the volunteer the right to determine his or her own capabilities for every single activity.
  • Volunteers are not covered under workers’ compensation and have no rights under your workers’ compensation policy. A waiver should make this clear.
  • Volunteers may not receive a paycheck or benefits. However, they do have responsibilities. A waiver is used to ask the volunteer to accept the organization’s bylaws, mission statement, best practices, etc. The volunteer should agree to defend the organization against such accusations.
  • Waiver documents should be accompanied by or include detailed job descriptions. If the waiver form does not identify job duties, then the person is ill-equipped to accept the risks involved. Have the volunteer sign a recognition statement for the official job description if not in the waiver. Job descriptions might include:
    • Physical requirements for the job, i.e. minimum weight one must be able to lift, etc.
    • Emotional/mental difficulties that could arise from the position.
    • Descriptions of all activities the job will require.
    • Descriptions of the clientele this role will interact with
    • Descriptions of the locations and environments where work will occur.
  • Waivers must advise of specific risks, such as listing job duties. Given that many risks are not forseeable, the waiver form also must reference general hazards.
  • A waiver should include Hold Harmless and Indemnification language.
  • Every waiver varies in the strength of its legal language. For instance, the term “endeavor to” is much more lenient than “required to.” Each state varies greatly in its requirements. For these reasons, your attorney must design the final version. Before going to your attorney, prepare the job descriptions, create a list of risks you forsee, and decide the tone you want for your waiver document.