Volunteer Confidentiality and Legal Liability
Volunteers who work in a Safe Haven will be privy to conversations that victims will want to keep private. To maintain victims' trust and respect, volunteers should sign a confidentiality agreement (PDF 46.7 kb). Both inside and outside of the Safe Haven, volunteers should avoid discussing Safe Haven conversations and activities with anyone other than those who have a similar support role at the Safe Haven. Comments can be overheard and used to harm victims or, at a minimum, give the impression that privacy is not valued.
Furthermore, because the trial is likely to have a high profile, discussions in the Safe Haven are likely to be of interest to the media; they need to be protected if victims are to feel comfortable accepting services from a community coalition. As a general rule, volunteers should not speak to the media about the case, the victims, or the services being provided. It is critical at the project's onset to communicate the procedures for how volunteers should handle queries from the media.
It is common for organizations to require volunteers to sign liability release forms (PDF 46.7 kb) to help insulate the organizations from any financial repercussions that may result from a volunteer's negligence or deliberate misconduct (e.g., a volunteer inadvertently makes a comment that causes a victim emotional distress) and to protect them from legal action that may result from a physical injury a volunteer may incur while performing his or her duties. The Volunteer Protection Act10 grants immunity from personal, individual liability to those who volunteer for nonprofit organizations to ensure that they are not held legally responsible for any harm they may unintentionally cause. The law, however, offers protection only if volunteers are acting within the scope of their volunteer activity, the harm caused was not deliberate, and the harm did not result from the volunteer operating a vehicle.
Although the law protects volunteers, it does not protect organizations. Therefore, a signed release form is still valuable. Ultimately, individual state laws determine enforcement of the agreements. An attorney should be consulted when developing a liability release form. To help ensure enforceability, the liability release should specify the risks, such as acts of nature or equipment failure, that volunteers may incur while performing their duties. It should also state that the volunteer has had the opportunity to read and understand the release and understands that by signing the document, he or she will lose certain legal rights in the event of injury.