Townships should treat volunteers as employees, council hears
By Chad Ingram
Published May 10, 2018
When it comes to insurance and risk management, municipal governments should essentially treat volunteers as through they are employees, members of Algonquin Highlands council heard last week.
This includes proper training and vulnerable sector background checks, conducted by police, for volunteers who may be working with children, or large sums of money, for example.
Robin McCleave, a risk manager with insurance firm Jardine Lloyd Thompson Canada visited councillors during their May 3 meeting.
“The only difference between a volunteer and an employee is that an employee gets paid,” McCleave said, adding that during the hours they are offering their time, volunteers are representatives of the township. “You need to have the ability to supervise your volunteers.”
McCleave said this supervision could either come from staff members, or volunteers who’ve been specially trained to performed the supervisory duties.
She also recommended volunteers be screened.
“Screening does create a safe environment. It’s what they refer to as legitimate discrimination,” McCleave said.
It’s recommended that vulnerable sector background checks be instituted for anyone dealing with vulnerable groups such aschildren, or with sums of money on the township’s behalf.
“So many of our activities involve five- and ten-dollar amounts,” said Councillor Brian Lynch, asking if working with such small amounts of money really warranted a background check.
McCleave said when it comes to cash, it was really volunteers who may be running a gift shop, or who operate a bank account on behalf of the township, who should undergo checks, as opposed to someone taking money at the gate of a fundraiser.
In that way, Councillor Marlene Kyle asked if volunteers at the annual Dorset snowball should be required to undergo screening.
Ultimately, it’s up to council, McCleave indicated.
“It’s really your policies and procedures and what you want to set,” she said, adding that the township needed to assess the risk involve.
Certainly, dealing with minors – anyone under the age of 18 – poses an inherent risk. While volunteers can be asked to sign waivers, “ultimately, a minor cannot waive their right to sue,” McCleave said. Nor can parents of a minor waive that right.
“Are you suggesting we don’t use them at all?” Lynch asked.
“No, not at all,” McCleave said, but indicated that volunteers who are minors should only be assigned duties with minimal risk – they should not operate a chainsaw, for instance – and should be given the same training as any staff members performing the same duties.
“I’m not discouraging minors, you just have to be aware of the duties you’re giving them,” McCleave said.
McCleave recommended having waivers and paperwork in place, including manuals for volunteers.
“Insurance is all about what you’ve done to mitigate risk,” said Mayor Carol Moffatt.
Moffatt said the challenge for the township was to find a balance between not being overly onerous, and not mitigating risk sufficiently.
“That’s the fine line of, where do you land on this, which is where we’re struggling,” Moffatt said.
Parks, recs and trails manager Chris Card will conduct research and bring some draft policy back to the council table.