Rescinded [2010-03-24] - Volunteers Policy

The objective of this policy is to facilitate the establishment and management of volunteer programs by protecting volunteers against financial and other risks to which they, their property and dependants may be exposed, including their potential liability to the government and to third parties.
Date modified: 1994-06-03

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This document is no longer in effect. It has been archived online and is kept purely for historical purposes. For further information refer to the People Management Policy Review Project.

Policy objective

The objective of this policy is to facilitate the establishment and management of volunteer programs by:

  • protecting volunteers against financial and other risks to which they, their property and dependants may be exposed, including their potential liability to the government and to third parties; and
  • protecting the Crown against any financial or other risks to which its employees, and property in the care, custody and control of volunteers, may be exposed. This includes risks arising from the potential, assumed or legal liability of the Crown to volunteers and third parties.

Policy statement

It is the government's policy to apply risk management in order to protect volunteers and the Crown against the risks to which they are exposed.


This policy applies to:

  • departments and departmental corporations named in Schedules I and II of the Financial Administration Act; any other division or branch of the Public Service of Canada, including a Commission appointed under the Inquiries Act, designated by the Governor in Council as a department; and the Canadian Forces; referred to in this policy as "departments"; and the National Capital Commission; and
  • persons, i.e., volunteers, including individuals serving as volunteer directors, board members or trustees, who provide services directly to or on behalf of departments, without compensation or any other thing of value in lieu of compensation, other than reimbursement for expenses actually incurred. Such persons may serve as individuals or as members of groups such as non-profit organizations (as defined for purposes of the Income Tax Act). However, contractual or fee-for-service arrangements that non-profit organizations have with departments are excluded from this policy.

Policy requirements

As part of assessing the advisability of enlisting volunteer assistance, departments must:

  • evaluate the potential liability that volunteer activity could place upon the Crown;
  • adhere to good risk management principles and practices in volunteer activity in conformity with the government's risk management policy. This would include provision of adequate materiel and other support to volunteers consistent with cost-effective use of government resources, the needs of the task and attendant risks;
  • select the most appropriate means of underwriting volunteers' risks and provide for related costs in their appropriations;
  • accept the potential for the Crown to be vicariously liable for the actions of volunteers under certain circumstances; and
  • hold volunteers responsible for acting honestly and without malice and not absolve them from exercising due caution and taking care of any Crown property entrusted to them, or from any act that would be a cause for disciplinary action if the volunteer were an employee.

Departments may choose to self-underwrite to insure volunteers' third party liability risks, including liabilities that might result from their use of government-owned or -leased materiel. However, before a department can self-underwrite such risks, there must be: effective risk management; agreement, preferably written, between the department and the volunteer; departmental control of the risks; the necessary volunteer qualifications and training; and, when relevant, a work environment that meets safety and health standards.

In the case of bodily injury, a department must demonstrate at least five years of effective risk management of volunteer activities before the Treasury board will examine the possibility of self-underwriting such risks.


The Treasury Board Secretariat will co-ordinate interdepartmental consultation, as required, to promote best practices and foster government-wide consistency, economy and effectiveness in volunteer risk management.


The Treasury Board Secretariat will review the effectiveness of this policy in assisting departments to manage the risks to which they and their volunteers are exposed. The impact of the policy implementation on departmental operations and performance will be gauged by how well the department has identified and minimized the risks, contained the effects of any damaging or harmful incident, and achieved adequate and timely compensation, restoration and recovery.

Feedback on the effectiveness and implementation of the policy will be obtained from departmental monitoring information, internal audits, program evaluations and information available from other reports and government organizations.


This policy is issued under the authority of Section 7 of the Financial Adminstration Act and cancels TB Circular Letter 1990-3. It must be applied in conjunction with the Treasury Board Risk Management Policy.


Enquiries relating to this policy should be referred to the responsible officer designated in departmental/organizational headquarters, who in turn may direct questions regarding interpretation to the Human Resources Branch of the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat.

For fundamental or more complex enquiries, a risk management analysis (see Appendix A of the Treasury Board Risk Management Policy) should first be undertaken.

Appendix A - Guidelines

1. Risk management

In support of the requirement for volunteers to be managed effectively within an appropriate risk management framework, departments should ensure that the Risk Management Policy is followed, and that volunteers (individuals or groups):

  1. are given risk protection similar to that received by departmental employees when faced with comparable risks;
  2. are trained in or have the expertise for the volunteer activity;
  3. have effective materiel support from their own resources or from departmental resources including, if necessary, the use of government vehicles;
  4. except for unforeseen or emergency conditions, have a written agreement with the department that describes the volunteer activity, risk management (including insurance) provisions, and the related conditions under which departmental resources are made available; and that preparations are made for cases where volunteers are called to respond to emergency situations promptly and without benefit of prior documentation.

2. Underwriting options

To ensure that the best possible means of underwriting is in place, a risk analysis should have considered and planned for the necessary steps to minimize the risks, and identified certain exposures which may still require underwriting consideration. Risk exposures may be broadly categorized as personal property and bodily injury, and third-party liability.

Underwriting encompasses the various ways in which financial protection against the potential consequences of risk can be arranged. It may include any one or combination of, the following options: verifying that appropriate insurance is carried; defraying insurance expenses; purchase of insurance; and self-underwriting.

2.1 Verification of volunteers' personal insurance

To determine whether additional protection of volunteers is required, departments should first assess whether the existing insurance coverage of volunteers (which may include personal or public insurance plans - e.g. hospital, medical, and worker's compensation in some provinces) is adequate in relation to the risks of the volunteer activity. Only then would any inadequacies need to be addressed in terms of the following options.

2.2 Defraying volunteers' insurance expenses

The purchase of additional personal insurance by volunteers should be a reimbursable expense only when the level of such coverage is considered reasonable and when coverage is limited to damage or injury resulting from volunteer activity within the scope of the identified project. This option may be useful for individual or widely dispersed volunteers, or for well-organized groups that could contract for group coverage.

2.3 Departmental purchase of insurance for volunteers

Commercial insurance can be purchased by departments and must be acquired in conformity with the Contracting Policy. (See the "Contracting" volume of the Treasury Board Manual).

Departments can consider group underwriting options, singly or in combination, for coverages such as accidental death, dismemberment, death benefit, disability insurance, life insurance, and third-party liability.

Types and limits of coverage are at the discretion of departments; however, departments are responsible for ensuring that volunteers are given insurance protection similar to that in place for departmental employees when faced with comparable risks.

2.4 Self-underwriting by departments

This option can be used to insure volunteers' third-party liability risks, including liabilities that might result from their use of Crown-owned or -leased materiel. As provided in the policy requirements, before a department can self-underwrite any such risks, the following conditions must be met:

  1. effective risk management practices are in place; and
  2. there is a written or oral agreement between the department and the volunteer; and
  3. the department is in control of the risks through a managed, collaborative relationship with the volunteer; and
  4. volunteer qualifications and training for particular specialized activities are adequately screened and certified; and
  5. when relevant, the volunteer work environment meets health and safety standards.

In a third-party liability claim against a volunteer, the Crown should ensure that the volunteer suffers no financial loss.

If a department is unable to meet all the above conditions, it can procure commercial group insurance protection or, if there are exceptional circumstances or particular economies to be achieved, it should request further guidance from the Treasury Board Secretariat.

As stated in the policy requirements, in the case of bodily injury, a department must demonstrate at least five years of effective risk management of volunteer activities before the Treasury Board will examine the possibility of self-underwriting such risks.

2.5 Special events and risks to volunteers' property

There may be special events at which volunteers are exposed to risks not normally encountered during regular program activities. In those situations, departments should ensure that additional mechanisms are in place as necessary to protect the interests of volunteers.

When authorizing the use of a privately-owned vehicle or other types of transportation, or the use of personal property for the purpose of performing a volunteer activity, departments are responsible for ensuring that volunteers have, or will have, the same protection as departmental employees in similar circumstances.

2.6 Management information

Departments should maintain records of the actual costs of insurance premiums and deductibles, claims and court awards paid by the Crown or to third parties. Minimum recording requirements on claims against underwriting of volunteer activities include: name(s) of volunteer(s); name(s) of other parties involved; the official language used; type of claim (e.g. bodily injury, third party liability, government materiel loss); date of incident; dollar amount claimed; date of payment; legal opinion; authority for payment (if other than this policy); and any other information required for investigation and assessment of incidents (see Risk Management Policy, Appendix B - Guidelines, article 4.2).

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