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Volunteers and Managing the Risk

Tufts University recognizes and values the many contributions of volunteers to the mission and function of the University.  Throughout the year there are many people who will serve as volunteers to provide services to the University in its academic, research, business and public service missions.

What is the Definition of a Volunteer?

A University volunteer is an individual who willingly provides unpaid service to the University for civic, charitable or humanitarian reasons or to gain practical work experience. University volunteers should not be used in ways that displace or replace Tufts employees in the performance of their duties and such arrangements may not be used to circumvent the University’s established hiring process. Volunteer services are performed without promise, expectation or receipt of compensation, future employment, or any other tangible benefit.

What Risks Are Associated With Volunteers?

Our goal should always be to protect volunteers from injury or illness while they are serving the University. It is important to realize that volunteers are not employees of the University and they are not eligible for workers compensation if they are injured or become ill while volunteering on behalf of the University. Also keep in mind that a volunteer could bring a claim or lawsuit against the University and/or a faculty or staff member if the volunteer is injured and the injury is alleged to be caused by the negligence of the University or its employees. (e.g. a volunteer sustains an injury in a lab, and afterwards sues the University alleging that he or she did not receive appropriate safety advice, training, or supervision).

How Can I Manage the Risks?

Because volunteers, by and large occupy the same work place as employees, it is important that they understand the University’s expectations concerning their conduct within the workplace. As such, supervisors should be sure to provide each volunteer the University’s policies including, but not limited to, business conduct, anti-discrimination and sexual harassment.

It is important to provide supervision, direction and training consistent with the volunteer’s activities and existing University policies and practices. For example, if the volunteer will be working with animals, that person must attend a Right to Know Training Program prior to being allowed to perform services. (Contact EH&S at Ext. 67615 for scheduling).

Because volunteers are not eligible for workers compensation benefits, please be sure to document that they have health insurance.

Many individuals offer their services to the University throughout the year as volunteers in various capacities and it is important to properly document when an individual is authorized to provide volunteer services on behalf of the University. Part of the documentation process is to ensure that each volunteer signs the appropriate waiver.  Please have each volunteer sign the appropriate waiver form: Under 18 or Over 18.

If you have any questions regarding the use of volunteers, please contact Claudia Jackson ( or at 617-627-3762) or your Human Resources representative.

Please Note: Any volunteer activity must be approved and authorized by the Office of the Dean.