Volunteer Discipline Policy

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The following proposal was approved by Council at its meeting in May, 2004. Further changes are welcome and should be proposed on the council email list, then brought up at the following Council meeting.


In order to understand the proposed volunteer policy, you should become familiar with the groups that we broke volunteers and offenses into.

Volunteers are broken down into four categories:

  • short term,
  • established volunteers (meaning that they've been here for at least 6 weeks),
  • unpaid interns, and
  • interns paid by an outside agency (outside interns).

Offenses at Free Geek have been broken down into four categories as well:

  • Unforgivable -- stealing or physically harming others
  • Malicious -- rudeness, baiting or insulting others, repeatedly ignoring instructions, disrespect of others, exhibiting aggressive behavior toward humans or machines, or exhibiting severely disruptive behavior
  • Well-meaning mistake-makers -- pretty self explanatory
  • Slackers -- also self explanatory

Volunteer Discipline Policy

Many of these offenses are dealt with by enacting our volunteer discipline policy. The policy is broken down into steps:

  • (Step 0) The first time you notice behavior that isn't appropriate, think, "Can this volunteer's behavior be re-channeled?" Work with the volunteer. Ask them if they're unhappy with the task they've been given or if there's something else they'd like to be doing. Almost anyone can do cleaning or pulling apart floppy disks. If they're very energetic, is there some cardboard they can break down? If a build volunteer is taking up too much time because they lack computer skills and are therefore messing things up a lot in card sorting, perhaps they should go through the adoption program first. If you can't re-channel the volunteer for some reason, move on to step 1. Document what you did, and/or that you thought about this step.
  1. Talk to the volunteer, letting him or her know that Free Geek has a policy regarding the behavior they are exhibiting. This may be as easy as saying, "Yelling in other peoples' ears and getting all up in their personal space isn't allowed at Free Geek. If I see you doing it again, we're going to have to have a talk." It's important to be specific about the behavior. If at all possible, say it with a staff person in earshot. Document the incident.
  2. If the behavior happens again, you and another staff person should talk to the volunteer. Let them know what you've noticed them doing, and try to find out what's going on -- why are they doing it? Be flexible and make changes to their time here and the task they do according to their needs. Also, let them know what will happen if they continue behaving in the same way (i.e. let them know the next two steps of this policy). If applicable (if they're an outside intern and have an outside sponsor), call or email the sponsor to let them know what happened and the steps you're taking. Document the behavior you saw and what happened during the conversation.
  3. If the same behavior continues, they get one more warning. Another staff person must be present. Let the volunteer know what you saw them doing again, and that if you see it again, they will be kicked out of Free Geek (or, if applicable, you'll call their outside sponsor and tell him or her not to give credit/paychecks to the intern). Document the incident.
  4. If the behavior happens yet again, the volunteer is kicked out of Free Geek. Do this with another staff member, and document, document, document.

Written Agreements and Documentation

IMPORTANT: If the behavior/situation seems to be escalating and it doesn't look likely that it will go away by itself, the involved staff member should compose a letter for the volunteer and a staff member to sign. This may happen at step 2 above, but staff should talk to each other and use common sense regarding this. The letter should outline the offenses and actions already taken as well as the rest of the steps of the discipline policy. It should note that the steps will be put into effect if the volunteer's behavior continues to be a problem. The letter should also include the terms agreed upon by the volunteer and the staff member (for example, if the volunteer agreed not to bring in his or her GameBoy any more because it was too distracting, this should be noted). This letter should be printed out and the volunteer (or volunteer's guardian if he/she is a minor) should show his/her acceptance of it by signing it. The relevant staff member should sign it, too, then make a copy for Free Geek's records. The original should go to the volunteer.

Documentation: this means that you create a ticket in the VolunteerIssues RT queue. Include when, where, who, what, why, how, and what step of the discipline policy you used. If you do not have access to the VolunteerIssues RT queue, send an email to the staff list with the same information, so we all know what happened and what step of the discipline policy you've enacted.

See Documenting a Volunteer Issue

Courses of Action

Now, courses of action according to volunteer type and offense category:

  • Volunteers who commit 'Unforgivable offenses' are kicked out of Free Geek, no matter what kind of volunteer they are. This is geographically inclusive (i.e. a volunteer who restricted from entering Free Geek's general facility is also not allowed in the store), as it is hard to restrict a person from one area and not another. The time period for the volunteer's dis-inclusion from Free Geek should be decided on a case-by-case basis. Many of these cases will require some investigation to be sure we know what went on.
  • Volunteers who do something 'Malicious' should be run through the steps of the discipline policy.
  • Volunteers who are 'Well-Meaning Mistake-Makers': go through the steps of the discipline policy with a soft touch. Concentrate on step 0 and try to find a volunteer task in which they cause the least damage.
  • The discipline policy also applies to those who are 'slackers', although it's important to weigh the time we'll be spending with slackers against the energy it takes to enact the policy. The rule of thumb would be if someone is goofing off and not getting in the way, it's not as big of a deal as someone who is preventing non-slackers from getting work done, or encouraging others to slack off as well.


Just a little note at the bottom: if staff or volunteers are encountering fishy stuff and don't know who did it, they should post an announcement of it on the staff list (maybe in the form of a question like on Jeopardy). Investigation should ensue. This action often becomes the early stages of documentation -- it's very important to gather documentation. If it's something that might have an innocent cause (a trustworthy volunteer grabbing something to test and locking it up in a different place than expected), a query should be sent to the regulars list before leaping to the conclusion of theft.