COVID-19 Update

VO is recruiting and deploying volunteers to respond to the volunteer needs specific to COVID-19 in Ottawa, Prescott-Russell, Lanark County and Renfrew County while ensuring proper screening and training protocals to safeguard the health of those volunteering and those they are assisting. Please see the intake portals for volunteers, for members, and for other agencies on our hompage. VO’s COVID 19 volunteer deployment program is supported by the Government of Canada’s Emergency Community Support Fund and the Ottawa Community Foundation.

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Blog > Gathering information about volunteer applicants – You need to link it to risk

Gathering information about volunteer applicants – You need to link it to risk

posted on Jul 18, 2018
screening-350px.jpg

by Maria Lahiffe

*Updated May 1, 2020 to include risks related to COVID-19*
Please note that, while every effort has been made to provide accurate, up-to-date information, VO is not a Public Health agency. For the best, up-to-date information available, please consult Ottawa Public Health.

Volunteer screening is essential to making sure that every volunteer is the right fit for every assignment. It is an ongoing process which starts before a position description is developed, and continues until the volunteer’s service is completed.

Throughout the 10 steps of screening [1], volunteer managers need to gather information about potential volunteers, in order to check for fit. You might think that more information is better; however, gathering unnecessary information carries risks. Depending on the situation, it may even be illegal. You need to assess the risk associated with each volunteer position.

Assessing Risk

When assessing the risk associated with a particular volunteer position, consider that risk through three lenses:

  1. Risk to an individual – risk of harm to the person doing the job
  2. Risk to others or to property – risk of harm to a client, a member of the public, or to property
  3. Reputational risk – risk to the organizational reputation

There is a lot you can do to reduce the risk inherent to a given position. Here is a website which gives you a good start. When it comes to mitigating risks specific to COVID-19, consult Ottawa Public Health or the public health authority in your jurisdiction. You will need to check back frequently because the state of knowledge is changing so quickly. This disease was completely unknown just a few short months ago, which means there is a lot to learn.

Some things to consider in assessing the risk inherent in a given position are as follows:

  1. Level of autonomy in the role
  2. Extent to which the person in the role interacts with the public
  3. Physical risks inherent to the role
  4. Extent to which the person in the role interacts with vulnerable populations, e.g. young people, elderly, people with disabilities
  5. Level of responsibility associated with the role
  6. *NEW* the volunteer's health status
  7. *NEW* the amount of contact needed among volunteers, and between volunteers and the public

Something to note is that risk is not related to the length of time the volunteer will serve your organization. If there are risk factors, then they apply just as much for a one-hour assignment as they do for a multi-year job.

Assessing risk in light of COVID-19

The Government of Canada has created risk-informed decision-making guidelines for workplaces during the COVID-19 pandemic. This page is updated as more is known about the disease and its transmission. Please make sure you check back regularly to make sure that your decision-making takes into account the most current knowledge related to risk.

Sources of Information for screening

There is a lot of information you may want to gather about a potential volunteer. This could include: [1]

  • Name, including former name(s)
  • Gender identification
  • Contact information, both physical and online
  • Emergency contact information
  • Date of birth
  • Education
  • Certifications (e.g. CPR, Serving it Right)
  • Professional Accreditation
  • Previous work experience
  • Driver’s License number
  • Driving history
  • Accommodation needs
  • Criminal record history
  • Health screening information, including:
    • has the volunteer travelled within the previous 14 days?
    • does the volunteer have a cough which has recently started, or a fever?
    • does the volunteer have a pre-existing health condition which would heighten their risk for complications due to COVID-19?
  • Job and character references

Note that all of this information is highly personal. It is imperative that you have robust privacy policies and procedures in place, to protect this information. Read our blog post to learn more about information privacy.

Bona Fide Occupational Requirements (BFORs)

“A BFOR is a legal term for the essential tasks required to perform a job. If an employer can establish a particular BFOR that cannot be modified/adapted for an accommodation, they may not have to accommodate a worker in that job. BFORs are not preferences; they are duties or elements that are essential to the job.” [2] This means that all standards required of all staff (paid and unpaid) must be rationally connected to the performance of the job, and that accommodations are either impossible or would impose undue hardship on the organization.

Screening on the basis of a standard which is not Bona Fide is a human rights abuse, and is illegal. [3] [4] In the case of some screening information, it can be illegal to collect information which is not related to a BFOR. [5]

What does all of this mean?

In sum, recruiting volunteers is complex. You must adopt strong policies and procedures which protect your organization, its employees and volunteers, and its clients. You must gather only the information which is relevant to making your decision if a given applicant will be a good fit for a given role. Let’s look at some examples:

Please note that these examples are only intended as general guides. For legal advice, please consult a lawyer.

Example 1: Stocking canned goods on shelves

Level of autonomy in the role

Likely low

Extent to which the person in the role interacts with the public

Zero

Physical risks inherent to the role

Very low

Extent to which the person in the role interacts with vulnerable populations

Zero

Level of responsibility associated with the role

Very low

Ability to maintain physical distancing

depends on the layout of your storage space

Thus, the risk associated with this position depends on the layout of your space. You may need to gather very little information in order to assess if the person would be a good fit for the role. Alternately, you may need to collect information related to the person's health status. This information will likely need to be collected at every shift.

Example 2: Driving patients to appointments

 Level of autonomy in the role

High

Extent to which the person in the role interacts with the public

Medium

Physical risks inherent to the role

Low

Extent to which the person in the role interacts with vulnerable populations

Very high

Level of responsibility associated with the role

medium

Ability to maintain physical distancing is very low

high risk

This is a very high-risk position. This person will be away from supervision, operating a motor vehicle, entering people’s homes, and interacting with vulnerable people. In addition, this person will have very limited ability to maintain physical distancing, making them vulnerable to coronavirus exposure. The following are certainly reasonable:

  • Clean driving record
  • Clean vulnerable sector check
  • health record

You may need the following information in order to make accommodations for the volunteer

  • Mobility requirements. Someone who uses an assistive mobility device (e.g. wheelchair) may need to be assigned to homes which are accessible by their device.

Example 3: Board member

Level of autonomy in the role

High

Extent to which the person in the role interacts with the public

Medium

Physical risks inherent to the role

Low

Extent to which the person in the role interacts with vulnerable populations

Likely low

Level of responsibility associated with the role

high

Ability to maintain physical distancing: very easy with telephone and video conferencing

very low risk

This is a high-risk position, particularly with respect to reputational risk. The following are reasonable:

  • Job and character references
  • Resume

Depending on the type of organization, your board members may also require a Vulnerable Sector Check. For example, in Ontario, Vulnerable Sector Checks are required of all staff and volunteers (including board members) with organizations who work with, or make decisions on behalf of, persons with developmental disabilities and persons needing long-term nursing care. [6]

What next?

Volunteer Screening is an essential part of an effective volunteer management program. It helps to match the right people with the right roles, improves the quality of service in the social sector, and manages risk and liability. You absolutely need to gather information about your volunteer applicants, but you need to develop your screening policies mindfully, balancing a number of needs.

Want to learn more? Come to an upcoming workshop.

Click here for more information, and to register.

Volunteer Ottawa offers a comprehensive suite of courses related to all aspects of running a non-profit or a charity. Click here for our event calendar. Subscribe to our Event RSS Feed to be among the first to know when a new workshop is added to the schedule.

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Related blog posts:

 

[1] Volunteer Canada, "The Screening Handbook," 2012. [Online]. Available: https://volunteer.ca/content/10-steps-screening. [Accessed 14 September 2017]. [2] "What is a Bona Fide Occupational Requirement (BFOR)?," Public Service Alliance of Canada, 18 September 2013. [Online]. Available: http://psacunion.ca/what-bona-fide-occupational-requirement-bfor. [Accessed 17 July 2018]. [3] Canadian Human Rights Commission, "Bona Fide Occupational Requirements and Bona Fide Justifications under the Canadian Human Rights Act: The Implications of Meiorin and Grismer," March 2007. [Online]. Available: https://www.chrc-ccdp.gc.ca/sites/default/files/bfore_0.pdf. [Accessed 18 July 2018]. [4] "Human Rights at Work 2008 - Third Edition: Setting Job Requirements," Ontario Human Rights Commission, 2008. [Online]. Available: http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/iv-human-rights-issues-all-stages-employment/2-setting-job-requirements. [Accessed 18 July 2018]. [5] "Types of Criminal Background Checks," Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), 29 March 2018. [Online]. Available: http://www.rcmp.gc.ca/en/types-criminal-background-checks. [Accessed 29 June 2018]. [6] Ontario Ministries of Community Safety and Correctional Services and Citizenship and Immigration, "An Overview of Provincially-Mandated Police Records Checks: A Resource for Ontario's Not-for-Profit Sector," [Online]. Available: https://www.theatreontario.org/media/1064207/onn-resource-guide-on-police-checks.pdf. [Accessed 29 June 2018].
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