ISU Department/Unit - FAQ About Volunteers

Iowa State University has relied on volunteers to perform services at the institution for many years.  A variety of liability and responsibility issues surrounding the use of volunteers are addressed in ISU's Volunteers policy.  This policy and corresponding procedures outlines the practices that must be followed to comply with regulations and best practices when volunteers are providing services to ISU.

1.  How is a volunteer opportunity approved?

Departments/units are responsible for authorization and oversight of all volunteer services and activities and for assessing risk associated with volunteer services. This is true for ISU volunteer services provided on-campus and off-campus. 

  • Evaluate potential volunteer services to assess risk factors (See Volunteer Policy for definitions)
  • Submit Volunteer Service Opportunity Request form 4 weeks in advance of the volunteer opportunity.  
  • Identify ISU faculty/staff in department/unit which has authorized the volunteer opportunity to supervise volunteer(s).
  • Background checks must be completed before services that include interaction with youth or vulnerable populations, access to keys to university facilities or access to financial or confidential matters may begin. Department or unit chairs may request background checks for volunteers as they deem necessary for other responsibilities. As necessary, submit a background check request for supervisory staff and/or volunteer(s) a minimum of 3 weeks before volunteer opportunity begins. Background checks for individuals who are not U.S. citizens or have not lived in the U.S. in the last seven years should be submitted 6 weeks in advance.
  • Higher risk services or services that fall under the generally prohibited category may require review by other departments (such as Environmental Health and Safety, Office for Responsible Research, University Counsel, Provost's Office and others).
  • The final approval of volunteers to a department or unit may be authorized only by the department chair, unit director or their delegated designee.  Individuals who are not U.S. citizens and request to volunteer for higher risk or generally prohibited services may be subject to I'snternational Students and Scholars Office and Provost's Office approval.
  • See Volunteer Policy for examples of services that are generally prohibited.

2.  Is ISU responsible for the acts or omissions of a volunteer?

ISU or the State of Iowa is responsible for the negligent acts or omissions of a volunteer whenever volunteers are acting on behalf of Iowa State University and within the scope of their services.  ISU is not responsible for criminal or intentional misconduct of volunteers.  However ISU may be responsible, as in the case of employees, for negligent selection or negligent supervision of volunteers.

3.  Why is ISU or the State of Iowa liable for the acts or omissions of a volunteer?

The volunteer is acting as an agent of Iowa State University and the State of Iowa when performing a service for the benefit of ISU and at ISU’s request.

4. How does ISU minimize potential liability associated with using volunteers?

Each department or unit should establish procedures for the selection, training and supervision of volunteers specific to the assignment of each volunteer and clearly identify the volunteer’s scope of services.  These should be included in the Volunteer Service Opportunity Request.

5.  Does ISU have any workplace injury insurance that covers volunteers?

No.  Volunteers are not covered by Workers' Compensation nor entitled to employee benefits as a result of university volunteer affiliation.   ISU does not automatically provide volunteers with accident or medical insurance. If a volunteer is injured while performing services assigned by the university and the injury was caused by the negligence of the university, the injured volunteer may file a claim against the university under the Iowa Tort Claims Act.  To manage this risk, departments or units may contact the Office of Risk Management to coordinate the purchase of accident/medical insurance for their approved volunteers. 

6.  Is a volunteer protected against personal liability for his or her negligence or intentional acts when acting within the scope of volunteer services requested by ISU?

Approved ISU volunteers are provided personal liability protection by the Iowa Tort Claims Act, Iowa Code Chapter 669, and the Federal Volunteer Protection Act, 42 United States Code Chapter 139, while acting within the scope of their volunteer services. The State will defend, indemnify, and hold ISU volunteers harmless against a tort claim caused by an act or omission of the ISU volunteer unless the act or omission of the volunteer involved intentional or criminal misconduct, a knowing violation of the law, a transaction from which the volunteer derives an improper personal benefit or the volunteer does not cooperate with an investigation of the incident or transaction that led to the claim.

7.  How is a volunteer informed of his/her services and liability protection?

Information regarding liability protection is contained within a volunteer agreement specific to the volunteer services or a handout provided when signing a volunteer roster agreement.

8.  What is a Volunteer Agreement and when is it necessary?

A signed Volunteer Agreement is required documentation. The Volunteer Agreement outlines the terms and conditions of the volunteer service, including liability protection, scope of services, etc.  Low risk services often use a Volunteer Roster Agreement that documents names of volunteers participating in lower risk services.  Please contact the Office of Risk Management for assistance with volunteer agreements.

9.  Are volunteers to affiliate organizations ever considered to be ISU volunteers?

An individual is not an ISU volunteer while performing volunteer services for an entity that is not a university department or program (i.e. non-profit or government agency; contracted third parties such as Venue Works or Levy; or affiliated organizations such as ISU Daily, ISU Foundation, Iowa Public Radio, etc.).  However, certain events may be both affiliate and ISU events.  Contact the Office of Risk Management to determine if a Volunteer Agreement is necessary. 

10.  How should a department or unit assess the risk factors necessary to classify the services to be provided by a volunteer as Low Risk, Higher Risk or Generally Prohibited? 

It is impossible for any policy to classify all of the various services that volunteers may be asked to undertake on behalf of ISU’s numerous departments and units.  Therefore, the policy lists examples of services that are: Low Risk Services, Higher Risk Services or Generally Prohibited Services.  With these non-comprehensive lists of examples in mind, the department or unit must evaluate the risk involved for both the volunteer and the university.  The higher the risk, the more documentation that will be required before a volunteer can provide services to the department or unit.  Low Risk Services will only require a Volunteer Registration Form.  Higher Risk Services will require a Volunteer Agreement in addition to a Volunteer Registration Form. 

11.  What happens when a Department or Unit desires to have a volunteer undertake services that are Generally Prohibited for volunteers?

If the department or unit desires to have volunteers perform services that are Generally Prohibited and therefore involve substantial risk to the volunteer and the university, the department or unit needs the approval of the Office of Risk Management for an exception.  Risk Management consults with Environmental Health and Safety or any other appropriate departments and determines if an exception is approved.  These types of volunteer services must be reviewed by Human Resources or the HR liaison in the Provost Office to determine if they will be in conflict with FLSA regulations.  

12.  What can an ISU department do to ensure that their volunteers will receive adequate legal protection from claims that might arise out of their actions or omissions?

Protecting the safety and welfare of our volunteers is important.  Documentation of approved volunteer names, approved scope of services, and training related to these services will assist the State of Iowa in the event a tort claim is filed for which the State may need to provide legal defense to the volunteer.  If a volunteer has not been approved by a department or unit prior to commencing volunteer services or if the volunteer’s services have not been specified, it will be difficult if not impossible to provide adequate legal protection to the volunteer or the department or unit.

13.  When or how might a volunteer be reclassified as an employee under federal or state law?

If the volunteer is performing services similar to those performed by a person in a paid position, departments or units should consult with the University Human Resource Offfice or University Counsel to prevent a situation in which ISU may be liable for payment of wages and hours under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

14.  Can a department or unit terminate the services of a volunteer?

The department or unit may end a volunteer’s service at any time and without prior notice.  All Volunteer Agreements will terminate at the conclusion of one year unless appropriate steps are taken to renew the approval of the department or unit. 

15.  Who owns materials created by a volunteer?

The law is clear that the author or creator of a copyrightable work who is not an employee owns the materials that are created, unless the author or creator assigns in writing some or all of the ownership rights in the work to ISU.  Most volunteer services do not involve creating materials, inventing new products or discovering new intellectual property through research.  However, when volunteer services are provided to research projects, in the development of materials, or when there is access to sensitive areas, it is important that a written agreement specifying the ownership of the potential results, discoveries or products be obtained before volunteer services begin.

16.  What are export control laws and how do they apply to volunteers?

The university implements the following federal export control laws through the Export Controls policy ( Export Administration Regulations (EAR) and International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) prohibit the export or deemed export of specified technology and related technical information to certain foreign nations and their citizens. These rules apply even if the foreign citizen is living in the United States and serving as a volunteer to ISU. University departments and units with international volunteers should review this policy and these regulations to ensure compliance.

17.  Can children under the age of 18 become approved ISU volunteers?

Special considerations apply when a department or unit engages volunteers under the age of 18. Volunteers who are 15 through 17 years of age must submit a signed parental consent form prior to performing any volunteer services.  Volunteers under the age of 15 must submit a signed parental consent agreement and must be under the supervision of a parent or guardian at all times during the volunteer services.