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Not-for-Profit Volunteers: Are They Covered?

Insurance Insights

Ever since President George H.W. Bush talked about the “thousand points of light,” there has been considerable public attention on, and interest in, volunteerism.

Most not-for-profit organizations rely on volunteers to some degree to fulfill their mission, and their insurance policies must address the associated liability brought on by volunteer programs.

There are two aspects of liability arising from volunteer programs:

  • Liability for injury to a volunteer
  • Liability for acts of a volunteer on behalf of the organization

Risk management for volunteers is not much different than it is for employees. Maintaining a safe workplace will reduce injury to employees and volunteers alike.

If volunteers are supplementing the work of employees, the same personnel screening procedures should be used, and their activities should be supervised in a similar manner.

Insurance coverage, however, is quite a different matter.

Liability for Injury to a Volunteer

Injuries to employees are covered under Workers Compensation policies, while injuries to volunteers generally are not. There are exceptions to this rule, as some specialized Workers Compensation policies, such as those covering firefighters, do include coverage for volunteers, as may organizations that are self-insured or belong to a self-insured group.

As a result, many not-for-profits do not have adequate insurance coverage to protect the volunteers that are so critical to their success.

There may be some coverage for volunteers under an organization’s General Liability and/or Automobile policy, but we usually recommend that not-for-profits supplement their insurance program by purchasing a Volunteer Accident policy.

A Volunteer Accident policy pays a specified amount for medical expenses, death, or dismemberment, so there is coverage whether the accident takes place on or off the premises. This coverage not only protects the volunteer, but it also reduces the likelihood of a lawsuit against the organization in the event of an accidental injury.

Liability for Acts of a Volunteer

What happens if a volunteer causes damage to a party unrelated to the organization while involved in an activity of the organization? The extent of coverage under the organization’s General Liability, Directors & Officers, and/or Automobile policy will depend on the policy’s definition of who is “an insured.”

Entities should ensure that their insurance policies recognize volunteers as “insureds,” either by definition or by endorsement. This will provide coverage for volunteers individually, as well as for the organization.

Without being defined as “an insured,” the volunteer could be left without coverage, and therefore responsible for his or her own legal defense, in the event of a loss.

Including volunteers as “insureds” affords the organization and its volunteers the same coverage as its employees.

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