Policies & Contracts

210 - Volunteer Services Policy

Subject: Volunteer Service at the University of Chicago

Section: U210

Date: June, 2007


To establish uniform procedures for screening and engaging volunteers, and to balance the following considerations: the desirability of utilizing volunteers’ services; the need to protect volunteers’ interests; and the need to minimize legal risk to volunteers and the University.


The University does not intend for volunteers to perform or displace work that is presently being performed by University employees. Volunteer arrangements may not be used to circumvent the established processes that govern standard University-authorized hires.

University volunteers do not have an employment relationship with the University on any grounds or for any reason and are not covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act or Illinois wage laws, and are not eligible for any University benefit, including Workers’ Compensation. At all times, the University has the discretion to select volunteers.

Note: This policy does not cover individuals who provide volunteer services for entities that are indirectly related to the business of the University (e.g., government or public agencies or the alumni association). The policy also does not cover or govern volunteers who agree to serve as human subjects in University research protocols.


University volunteers are uncompensated individuals who perform services directly related to the business of the University, support the activities of the University, or gain experience in specific endeavors. By definition, volunteers perform services without promise, expectation or receipt of any compensation, future employment or any other tangible benefit.


A.  Volunteer Guidelines
  1. A University of Chicago unit is responsible for properly screening, engaging, and terminating a volunteer. The unit is responsible also for ensuring an individual has appropriate experience, qualifications, and training for the tasks to be performed.
  2. To qualify as a University volunteer, an individual must be willing to provide services according to this policy, and complete and sign a University of Chicago Volunteer Agreement and other associated forms, as appropriate.
  3. Any current or retired employee, student, alum or other individual may volunteer at the University, with the following restrictions:
    • an individual who is under the age of 14 may not serve as a University volunteer;
    • an employee may not become a University volunteer in any capacity in which he/she is employed by the University, or which is essentially similar to the individual's regular work at the University, or under circumstances that suggest the decision to volunteer is not made freely;
    • all volunteers must establish proof of identity and citizenship or permanent residency;
    • if the individual is not a citizen or permanent resident of the United States, he/she must provide documentation of his/her visa status. An individual holding a temporary visa may not serve as a volunteer in a position where others receive compensation or perform the same services. An individual with a pending H-1B visa application to work at the University cannot serve as a volunteer. Volunteer status may not be used as a way to avoid or defer compliance with the employment eligibility requirements of federal immigration laws; and
    • an individual who is at least 14 years old (but under the age of 18) may only become a University volunteer for services which do not require a Volunteer Agreement (see below: Services Not Requiring a Volunteer Agreement) and must have parental consent and written approval from Human Resources (HR) and the Office of Legal Counsel.
  4. A University volunteer is considered an agent of the University while performing assigned duties and is expected to abide by University policies and internal/external regulations which govern his/her actions, including employee conduct (sexual assault, unlawful discrimination and harassment, compliance, and workplace violence), substance abuse, treatment of confidential information, use of University technologies, and financial responsibility.
B.  Services Not Requiring a Volunteer Agreement

The University generally considers the following activities low-risk, and thus do not require a completed volunteer agreement:

  • visiting committee;
  • reunion chairs;
  • commencement volunteer;
  • gallery/program guide;
  • museum docent (provided there is no travel requirement);
  • phone-a-thon volunteer;
  • public speaker; and
  • public member of any Institutional Review Board and Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees.
C.  Services Requiring a Volunteer Agreement

A volunteer is generally required to complete a Volunteer Agreement to perform the following activities:

  • laboratory activities;
  • library activities;
  • professional services, such as those performed by accountants, architects, doctors, engineers, etc.;
  • travel of any kind;
  • activities in any environment which requires orientation or training;
  • activities associated with confidential information (e.g., social security numbers, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, medical records);
  • activities with patients and/or subjects of experiments; and
  • activities with minors.
D.  Prohibited Activities for Volunteers
  1. A University volunteer is prohibited from performing the following activities:
    • operating heavy equipment;
    • working with any BSL III and BSL IV protocols;
    • working with or having access to any export-controlled materials;
    • working with hazardous materials or select agents;
    • working with stored energy (e.g., physical energy stored in air, gas, steam, water pressure, or in springs, elevated machines, rotating flywheels, fans, hydraulic systems, etc.);
    • any activity considered inappropriate for an employee;
    • entering into any contract on behalf of the University;
    • working with bio-hazardous or infectious materials unless the volunteer has first received appropriate training to perform such activities; and/or
    • working with animals or in laboratories where animals are present.
  2. Any unit engaging a University volunteer must maintain a completed and signed copy of the Volunteer Agreement along with any other associated document(s).
  3. The University provides indemnification (compensation paid to an individual for expenses, settlements and judgments incurred, made and entered against him/her) to a University volunteer in the same manner as provided to an employee – for acts or omissions arising within the scope of the volunteer's good-faith performance of specifically authorized duties or assignments on behalf of the University.
  4. Payment for volunteer services is not permitted under any circumstance. However, the appropriate unit has the authority to decide whether to reimburse a University volunteer for actual and reasonable expenses. Any reimbursement must be made following standard University reimbursement guidelines. Reimbursement must not be used as a substitute for compensation and cannot be linked to productivity.
  5. The University or a University volunteer may end his/her volunteer service at any time and without advance notice.

Employees represented by a union may be governed by the appropriate bargaining unit agreement.