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Message Board > Miscellaneous > Can people be forced to volunteer? ( Moderated by Deepika, EleanorSews, CynthiaSue)

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Can people be forced to volunteer?
Swim club fines parents who don't meet volunteer quota
purplebouquet
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Date: 5/4/11 12:03 PM

I would appreciate some insights into what has become a contentious issue at my house:
My 15-year-old son has been training with a local, private swim club for years. Each season, the club hosts several swim meets for eligible athletes from the entire state, events that depend on the help of dozens of volunteers over a 2 1/2 day period. Even though the club officially sponsors the meets, itís really a booster association that organizes and runs them. The association consists mainly of volunteer parents, and maybe, some paid coaches (not sure about the latter).
There is a chronic shortage of volunteers to help out at the meets and in order to prompt some of the laggards to action, last October the booster association put this new policy in place. It stipulates that all parents have to meet a certain volunteer quota, i.e., volunteer at a minimum of five meets during the six-month season or be fined $50. I am livid about this. Although I freely admit that I was one of the parents who hadnít volunteered before and that this threat spurred me to become involved, I am furious that the association feels entitled to punish me through my pocket book. During the season, I completed my volunteer assignments and dodged the fine.
This season, they upped the ante. Parents now have to volunteer two shifts per meet (a commitment of 8-10 hours for the weekend) or be fined $20 per meet if not in compliance. Worse, they didnít publish this new policy until the deadline for swimmers to sign up for the next meet had passed. In other words, I didnít learn about this ďhelp out or pay upĒ deal until my son was already registered and I didnít have a choice to tell him, ďSorry, I canít make the volunteer assignment, you canít swim.Ē
Whatís with this? Do groups of mainly unpaid volunteers have the right to levy and enforce financial fines like these? Can people be coerced into volunteering? Does anybody have some legal insights here? Can this policy be considered valid?
I never signed a contract that I would agree to be fined if I didnít help out. There is no written document that informs new parents about this demand of their volunteer efforts.
Iíve already expressed my displeasure about this new policy to the association. What concerns me the most is that I have seemingly no recourse or opportunity to protect myself against future demands on my time and money. What if they demand $100 if I donít show up to help? What if they demand I stick around all weekend, instead of one shift?
I fully appreciate the need for volunteers. I donít have a problem with that, and I believe the association is desperate to get more parents involved. But do they have the legal right to demand volunteer efforts or financial contributions in lieu of? Thatís what I want to know.
Iíd be grateful for your experiences and knowledge.

Thanks,
Claudia

Kim12469
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Kim12469
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Date: 5/4/11 12:19 PM

I don't know about legalities but I have been in a similar situation. My son's daycare has mandatory fundraisers. If you don't participate they charge you $35. It was probably in the handbook that I skimmed over but it came as a surprise to me. I was irked at first, I'm a fundraiser curmudgeon. I hate everything about them and actually opted for some of these to be charged the $35.

I guess I'd be mad in the sense that they didn't notify everyone of the new policy and then the subsequent changes to the policy before the deadlines. That's just sneaky. I'm going to venture a guess that you probably don't have much "legal" recourse. Yeah, sure you could file a small claims court suit but for the small amount of money it wouldn't be worth it.

In my experience it's not uncommon for volunteer type groups like this to require parent participation in events or planning or other things. But, having said that, you should have been informed ahead of time before deciding on whether to sign up your child or not.

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bakertoo
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Date: 5/4/11 12:21 PM

Do you have a lawyer friend who could give you some good advice about the viability of this? It sounds a little illegal to me, especially the timing of the information and when it was given to you. Pretty sneaky sounding.

dfr2010
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Date: 5/4/11 12:28 PM

That's not volunteering ... that is army-style "being volun-TOLD".

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ccris
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Date: 5/4/11 12:38 PM

I don't know about the legalities, either, but the parents should have been notified of the change in a timely manner. I'd be a bit miffed, too. I would imagine the fee charged parents for not meeting their required volunteer hours is to pay for outside help. I could be wrong, so take what I say with a grain of salt.

KathySews
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Date: 5/4/11 12:42 PM

I know you are just venting, but another point of view:
Volunteering is always such a difficult topic. The alternative is to increase the cost and hire help - a no win situation. These activities are great but it is so hard to get parental participation. Just remember these are not lawyers just other parents trying to get some help. Go easy on them. They are probably very frustrated too.

I agree they should have made sure people knew about the new plan with enough time to decide to continue participating. They probably know that in hindsight. Is it possible you missed that information somewhere? Maybe they could use help with the newsletter or signup paperwork if you cannot be physically there. I would just hate to see lawyers come into this.

I will say that it gets old being the parent that was always there while others dropped their kids and occasionally showed up for the games. NOT SAYING THAT IS YOU. One of my "favorites" said it was her me time; oh, and since I was going anyway could I give her kid a ride?

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Date: 5/4/11 1:06 PM

This sounds awful to me. How can they charge anyone for not volunteering? What happens if you don't pay the fine?

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kkkkaty  Friend of PR
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In reply to JTink


Date: 5/4/11 1:30 PM

Hmm, doe not sound like "volunteering" to me. Voluntary: done, made, brought about, undertaken, etc., of one's own accord or by free choice

Also, I can't imagine that it's great for kids to know that their parents are there against their will, and are mad about it....

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kkkkaty
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Date: 5/4/11 1:32 PM

I would say that they should raise the overall cost (or implement a fee, if there isn't one already), and then waive or reduce the fees for parents who volunteer to help. That way nothing is hidden, and for people who like to volunteer or can't afford the fees, they have another option.

Then use the fees to hire some teenage help, many would probably be quite glad to have a part time job
-- Edited on 5/4/11 1:35 PM --

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purplebouquet
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Date: 5/4/11 1:38 PM

I don't object to being asked to volunteer. I've done my share with many organizations and groups and know that most good things don't happen without the input of volunteers.

I object to being subjected to a fine that sounds, if not illegal, then at least highly dubious to me. That's just my question: Is it legal to fine folks for not volunteering? And what are reasonable, legal parameters? It's $20 this weekend, is it $100 next?

The irony is that if I were to comply with the requirement to volunteer two shifts at this meet, I'd have to renege on another volunteer commitment.

Claudia

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