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​​​​​​​​​​5.6.3 Volunteers​​​​​​​​​​​

Use discretion in determining tasks assigned to volunteers. Ask volunteers to sign the Volunteer Agreement (English version and Spanish version​) before they do any work. All volunteers must receive safe environment training and those who come into regular contact with minors and vulnerable adults must be fingerpr​inted and background checked. Information about a volunteer's eligibility to serve at a location may be available on the Volunteer/Personnel Information Network.​

Volunteers who serve as coaches in elementary school athletic programs​ are required to be certified through the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) and to obtain a CYO Certification Card. 

See also ​the Financial Management Overview​Parish Volu​nteers, and Volunteer Construction Work.

Employees Who Volunteer

A volunteer is a person who offers to do work for no remuneration; that is, the work is done without compensation or benefit in return. If a location sponsors employee activities or social events, voluntary attendance by employees may be requested. Employees must be notified in advance when their attendance is required. Non-exempt employees must be paid if they are required to attend. Do not allow non-exempt employees to work "off the clock."

Exempt employees may volunteer for any activity or event, with no additional pay, whether or not their volunteer work is the same as their regular job. Non-exempt employees whose attendance at an employer-sponsored activity or event is purely voluntary may only volunteer for tasks that are not related in any way to their normal job assignments and will not be paid for such voluntary work. Non-exempt employees who work in volunteer positions that are related to their normal job assignments must be paid for their work.

Warning: Volunteers do not get paid. Stipends, honoraria, bonuses, tuition discounts, gifts, or benefits of more than nominal value are considered payment and may transform volunteers into employees who must be treated accordingly, including appropriate record-keeping and adherence to the minimum wage​ and overtime laws.​

Volunteers – Frequently Asked Questions

​I am the business manager of a parish and need to balance the budget. I thought of using volunteers to help. Can I do that?

Yes, you may use volunteers to help in the parish. A volunteer is defined as someone who performs a service for another with no expectation of payment or compensation of any kind, and who is in fact not paid or compensated in any way.

The law allows nonprofit charitable organizations to use workers without paying for their services, provided that the work is done for a charitable purpose. The Church has a long tradition of relying on the charity and goodwill of the faithful to provide services. The parish probably already uses volunteers as lectors, extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, ushers, altar servers, greeters, choir members, confirmation and RCIA directors, etc. The parish may also use volunteers to help in the office, handling parish affairs.

On the other hand, if the work done is for an activity that is not related to the charitable purpose (for instance, the parish operates a bookstore or souvenir shop that is open to the public), the workers must be paid at least minimum wage.

Does the location have to provide safe environment training to all volunteers?

Yes. Archdiocesan policy requires that all volunteers must receive safe environment training​, whether or not they come into regular contact with minors or vulnerable adults.​ 

Does the location have to fingerprint and background check all volunteers?

It is prudent and recommended that all volunteers be fingerprinted. Volunteers who come into regular contact with minors or vulnerable adults must be fingerprinted, have their backgrounds checked, and participate in VIRTUS® training. They must also receive and sign the Guidelines for Adults Interacting with Minors at Parish or Parish School Activities or Events or the Archdiocese of Los Angeles Boundary Guidelines and Code of Conduct for Middle and High School Youth Working or Volunteering with Children or Youth. Check the Volunteer/Personnel In​formation Network​ for the volunteer's eligibility to serve. Contact the Office of Safeguard the Children for more information and review the Fingerprinting​ Policies and Guidelines

May I offer the parish volunteers a stipend in return for their services?

No. By definition, volunteers are not supposed to be compensated in any way. As soon as a volunteer receives any compensation (except as described in the next two questions), the volunteer is considered to be an employee who must be paid at least minimum wage and who must be covered by workers' compensation.

May I reimburse parish volunteers for any expenses they incur while volunteering?

Yes. The law allows volunteers to be reimbursed for expenses they incur in the course of performing their volunteer service. This includes the price of meals, transportation and lodging.  Locations should establish a clear policy that requires volunteers to seek approval before incurring an expense and to submit invoices along with their request for reimbursement.

May the parish honor volunteers at a recognition dinner and give them a check or gift certificate as an award?

Yes, the parish may provide volunteers with a dinner and give them an award such as a gift certificate, provided that the value of the award is nominal. The law defines "nominal" as an amount that is insignificant in relation to the amount of time and/or the value of the services rendered. You should take as a yardstick the current federal minimum wage; any amount that resembles compensation at the federal minimum wage would not be regarded as "nominal."

The parish hall needs refurbishing. Several parishioners have offered to help in replacing the electrical wiring, installing new plumbing and flooring, repairing the roof, and doing the painting. May I accept their offer?

Probably not. Although it is best to have construction-related work done by hired licensed professionals, the parish could accept the offer by the parishioners only if the work is performed under the supervision of a licensed contractor to guarantee proper execution of the work and insurance coverage. The contractor should not be a volunteer.

Work on archdiocesan properties by volunteer​s is discouraged because of the risk of injury, the liability exposure and the lack of warranty. Medical costs in the event of injury to a volunteer can well offset or even exceed the cost of paying a qualified and insured contractor to do the work. Furthermore, if volunteers do any work on something that is covered by warranty, their work would void the war​ranty.

You should make sure that the volunteers are, in fact, physically able to perform the work. The Volunteer Agreement (English version and Spanish version​), which all volunteers must sign, provides that volunteers must inform you if they have any physical limitations. Volunteers should not be assigned to strenuous labor, lifting, hoisting, and tree-trimming activities. Volunteers should not work above ground level using scaffolding, platforms, or lifts, or be engaged in electrical repairs or the use of power tools. Volunteers should not handle hazardous materials.

The church uses volunteers to decorate for Christmas, Easter, and other holidays. Some of the decorations are put up in places that can only be reached by standing on a ladder. May we use volunteers for this work?

Yes, provided that you take appropriate precautions. First, ask the volunteers to sign the Volunteer Agreement (English version and Spanish version​), which requires them to tell you if they have any physical limitations. Second, train the volunteers ahead of time in safe practices. Third, never allow volunteers to work alone on a job, especially if climbing is involved. Fourth, make sure someone who knows emergency first aid is available to help if needed.

Our students are required to perform service hours, which can be done in the parish/school. Are there any additional issues we should be concerned about?

Yes. All minors who volunteer must have parental approval that is obtained by signatures on the Student and Youth Activity Permission Form (English version and Spanish version​)​. High school students may be asked to sign a Sc​hool Policy on Christian Service (sample) if their work involves assisting those in need. No minor may perform any volunteer work without the supervision of an adult. Both minors and adult supervisors must meet the ​safe environment requirements for volunteers that apply to them. 

The school wants all teachers and staff members to participate in the annual fiesta. Can we require them to volunteer?

No. An employee who is required to participate in an activity by the employer is, by definition, not a "volunteer." If the school imposes this requirement on the teachers and staff, the school will have to pay for the services of the non-exempt employees​. Of course, you can invite all staff to attend and participate if they wish.

Our school staff really wants to help with the annual fiesta. Is it OK to let them volunteer their time and talents?

Yes, if the staff's offer to help is truly voluntary and not suggested or required by their supervisors or anyone else in authority at the school or parish. However, staff members may not be allowed to do work that is similar or related to work they get paid to do by the school or parish​. In other words, the bookkeeper cannot keep track of fiesta raffle tickets, the cook cannot help with the taco stand, and the janitor cannot supervise cleanup. You can assign the cook to the raffle tickets, the bookkeeper to do cleanup, and the janitor to the taco stand.

May we require volunteers to sign an agreement not to sue the parish or school if they are injured?

Yes. All volunteers must sign the archdiocesan Volunteer Agreement (English version and Spanish version​)​, which includes a limited waiver of claims. You should check with the Office of the Legal Counsel​ before you use any other kind of waiver or release form.