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Appreciate volunteers in appropriate ways

April is National Volunteer Appreciation Month, a time with organizations across the country stop to appreciate the people who give time and effort to help others or drive a cause. While volunteerism is certainly very different from paid employment, many organizations have reward structures or hierarchies. Anytime you introduce rewards -- no matter how intangible -- you have the possibility of discrimination.

Volunteers can also suffer from hostile work environments due to discrimination or other issues. Yes, volunteers are not required to stay. Yes, they aren't making a decision to stay because they need to earn a wage at that place of employment. Some volunteers are relying on the experience to boost their career capabilities, though. And while volunteers are not protected by the same laws as employees, they should still be able to work with others without fear of discrimination or hostility because of gender, race or other factors.

Volunteer Appreciation Month is a time when all volunteers within an organization should be celebrated. Organizations, whether public or private, should be careful not to leave out certain volunteers because of discrimination factors or single out certain volunteers inappropriately.

Your celebration measures should also be appropriate for the volunteers and the organizations. A CEO taking a single volunteer out for a cozy and private dinner could be misconstrued as something more than simple appreciation, for example. As with an employee, you should be careful to treat volunteers with appropriate respect.

If you are a volunteer with an organization and you believe that enterprise has discriminated against you or that you have been the victim of sexual harassment, then you might have legal options. Those options are possibly different than they would be if you were employed by the organization in question, but we can help you understand important differences and work with you to pursue and appropriate legal case.

Source: United Way of New York City, "What are National Volunteer Appreciation Month and National Volunteer Week?," accessed April 08, 2016

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