Our society is fortunate that so many of us devote hours of time to unpaid, volunteer service.
Whether at a youth sports organization, school or place of worship, the best parts of our lives run on volunteer labor. At Spector Gadon & Rosen, PC, we are proud that many of our staff and professionals have invested countless hours of their own, unpaid time to improve our community.
For all the good that volunteers do, however, do you know that volunteer activities could lead to a criminal record?
That could be the result of laws recently passed in Pennsylvania and other states, which require that volunteers get “clearances” before they may come in contact with minors.
These new laws expand on more stringent existing rules for paid employees.
Unfortunately, the definition of who must get such clearances is often not clear – and as a result the complex rules are often ignored.
In my experience, the new laws’ attempts at the complex balance between the competing goals of weeding out predators and not discouraging volunteers often frustrate both potential volunteers and leaders.
Yet despite such ambiguity, the laws specify possible criminal penalties for leaders who do not enforce them, even if no child is ever harmed.
Many organizations have tried to provide “plain English” guidance, but often use undefined terms that reinforce such ambiguity – not a useful feature when volunteers risk criminal penalties for innocent mistakes.
For example, one prominent youth organization’s website touts “interpretations” of how the law affects its volunteers, without explaining their source, or how to get them.
Stanley Jaskiewicz, a business lawyer with Spector Gadon & Rosen, PC, has worked closely with these laws as a board member of several nonprofits.
To clarify his and his colleagues’ obligations, he spoke with the legislative staffers who wrote the law. He also attended continuing legal education training sessions on legal responsibilities of nonprofit leaders.
If you are involved with an organization that relies on volunteers who may come into contact with minors, he may be able to use his experience to help you determine what you must do – before you risk the bigger problem of allowing a predator access to children.
Moreover, as a practical matter, prosecutors may not want the negative publicity of going after a coach, or teacher.
But no organization wants the negative publicity or stigma that could arise just from the mention of possible charges, especially involving youth protection.
Please call Mr. Jaskiewicz at 215-241-8866, or write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org, to discuss whether he can help your organization stay compliant, protect your volunteers from spurious abuse claims, and, most importantly, protect your children from predators.