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Legal Issues

Dissecting the Controversy of Volunteer Projects for Asylum Seekers

The Daily Mail online recently published a Reuters article, “Good job or taking work? Volunteering by asylum seekers in Italy praised and panned.” It provides an interesting outline of the pros and cons of an initiative in Italy which offers migrants from sub-Saharan Africa – who are living in temporary reception centers – the option of spending some time doing community service work. This work involves such assignments as litter clean up, both to pass time productively and to “give back” to the communities which have taken them in. The article is a very balanced piece putting forward opposing views, summarized like this: “Frustrated at long waits while asylum applications are handled, many migrants have been more than happy to get involved in volunteer work. But this has irked some critics who see it as either exploiting migrant labour or taking jobs from Italians.”

The controversy is real and all sides have valid points. Co-authors Rob Jackson and Susan J. Ellis explore it all in this issue’s Points of View.

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Five Strategies to Shut Down Volunteer Conflict

As every volunteer manager knows, your mission is BIG! It takes a lot of creativity, funding, and work from staff and dedicated volunteers to accomplish. But what happens when those very volunteers detract from your efforts instead of supporting them? Are some volunteers in a heated conflict with one another or, worse, in conflict with you and maybe even the direction of your organization? As a volunteer manager, how would you respond to such a negative but entirely possible scenario?

In this feature story, Marla Benson, creator of the Volunteer Conflict Management SystemSM, offers five key strategies to manage volunteer conflict before, during, and after it occurs. 

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Exploring the Issue of Volunteer Rights

In late 2009, Volunteering England established a Volunteer Rights Inquiry to look into a rising number of volunteers who were complaining, sometimes very publically, about their treatment by their volunteer-involving organizations. After nearly 18 months of confidential testimony, the Inquiry published its final Call to Action report in March 2011. In this article, editorial team member Rob Jackson, former Director of Development and Innovation at Volunteering England and head of the secretariat for the Volunteer Rights Inquiry, gives e-Volunteerism readers exclusive insight into the work of the Inquiry and the issues it raises for the volunteer management field around the world.  Editor-in-Chief Susan J. Ellis notes that Jackson’s story and accompanying sidebar represent a “great coup for e-Volunteerism. No one else has yet reported on the Volunteer Rights Inquiry beyond the release of the official documents.”


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On the Front Lines of the Volunteer Rights Inquiry

In this issue, Rob Jackson’s feature story about volunteer rights describes and analyzes the unique Volunteer Rights Inquiry led by Volunteering England from 2009 to 2011. In this special, companion Voices presentation, Jackson interviews two key participants who were deeply involved in the groundbreaking work and gives insight into the personal side of the Inquiry process. The Inquiry participants share their reflections on the controversial issue of whether or not to offer legal recourse to volunteers who feel mistreated by their organizations, as well their hopes for the future and their thoughts on what the work means for the volunteer management field as a whole.


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Legal Aspects of Volunteering

In this issue of "Along the Web" we focus on liability, risk management and other legal issues pertinent to volunteering. These legal areas tend to be very jurisdiction-specific. We've limited the list here to countries with a common background in the English system, but we've marked each item with its country of origin, in case discussions of legal liability make you paranoid: Australia (AU), Canada (CA), United Kingdom (UK), and United States (US).

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The Contradictions of Imposing 'Checks' on Volunteers: Questions We Need to Answer

Debbie Usiskin, an experienced volunteer programme manager in London, shares her personal exploration of how government requirements to ‘check’ (screen) volunteers provide contradictory and conflicting responsibilities and messages.  She raises important questions about finding the right balance between protecting those who are served while supporting the widest range of volunteers.

Usiskin also introduces a provocative analysis of volunteer-involving organisations by influential business guru Charles Handy and applies his thinking to volunteer management.  

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Practical Implications of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, sponsored by US Senator Paul Sarbanes and US Representative Michael Oxley, represents a major change to federal securities laws. It came as a response to the large corporate financial scandals involving Enron, WorldCom, Global Crossing and Arthur Andersen. Effective in 2006, all publicly-traded companies are required to submit an annual report of the effectiveness of their internal accounting controls to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Provisions of the Sarbanes Oxley Act (commonly-referred to as “SOX” and sometimes as “SarbOX”) detail criminal and civil penalties for noncompliance, certification of internal auditing, and increased financial disclosure. SOX is all about corporate governance and financial disclosure.

It is generally accepted that while SOX currently has specific regulations only for publicly-held companies in the United States, all American businesses, for profit and nonprofit, will in some manner eventually be affected by its provisions.  The purpose of this paper is to summarize the Act and suggest ways in which it impacts or will impact the nonprofit community relative to employees, volunteers, board selection, and best practices. 

For purposes of this article, “volunteer” will be synonymous with “employee.”  Non-American readers will find the last section of the article, “Broader Interpretations for Nonprofits,” useful for any country.

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Legal Liability and Risk Management for Volunteer Programs (Revisited)

“Along the Web” for this issue updates the first topic we examined back in 2000:  volunteer program liability and risk management. This is a topic that has received a lot of attention during the past five years, with a corresponding amount of materials produced to discuss it.  We’ll divide our annotated list of over 30 items into materials of general interest and materials connected to specific aspects of volunteering or liability.

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Don't Tell: Confidentiality and the Volunteer Situation

The Samaritans are a UK-based charity that provides confidential emotional support to those who are depressed or suicidal. Volunteers provide this service through 24-hour crisis-lines and e-mail response centers. One of the keystones of The Samaritans philosophy is that their service is absolutely confidential. Their belief is that clients will be more likely to seek Samaritan services and freely express their state of mind if they feel that their conversation is protected from disclosure. In October 2003, a volunteer for the UK branch of The Samaritans, encountered a difficulty in keeping to this promise of confidentiality.

One of his callers confessed to a murder of a young girl.

He reported this to police, who then, with the cooperation of The Samaritans, tapped further conversations between the volunteer and his caller and eventually arrested James Ford for the murder of Amanda Champion.

The Samaritans then terminated the volunteer, citing his breach of the Samaritan confidentiality policy.

As you might expect, when this became public knowledge it ignited a bit of a debate in the UK over whether asking volunteers to remain silent about such matters is a good idea. After all, allowing confessed murderers to run around free doesn’t seem like the best service to the public.

While this is clearly a worst-case scenario, this situation prompted us to make a few comments about client confidentiality, volunteers, organizational responsibility, and the implications of the debate.


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