Volunteer Time Off
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What Is Volunteer Time Off (VTO)?
VTO is a form of paid leave. Employees receive their normal compensation for time spent volunteering at an approved charitable or community organization.
VTO vs PTO
An employee can use Paid Time Off however they like, without providing an explanation or proof to the company. VTO, however, must be spent in service to a community or charitable organization, and the company reserves the right to request some kind of documentation confirming the time was spent in the manner requested.
VTO and PTO should be separate banks of time. Employees may use PTO for charity work if they wish, but VTO cannot be used as PTO.
Should your Company Offer Volunteer Time Off?
The company values determine this, but budgetary concerns may override it. For instance, your company may have a core value around service or generosity, but lack the funds to put it into action with VTO.
Advantages of VTO
Employees seem to enjoy this perk, but how many people take advantage of the program varies with company culture and employees. In a 2017 Deloitte survey of 1,000 employees, 70% felt that VTO raised morale more than company events. VTO advantages include:
- Recruitment. Offering VTO can attract community-minded, values-driven employees at a small cost.
- Wellbeing. Doing good works for others makes most people feel good and even feel better about themselves.
- Engagement. Employees feel proud that their company is willing to pay them to do work for others. It helps create a workplace that people want to work at, and thereby increases engagement, which of course increases productivity.
- Learning. VTO can enrich employees, bringing new skills or perspectives back to the organization.
- A better world. The volunteer time your employees complete contributes to a better world in some way. Some companies include this in their Corporate Social Responsibility reports. Additionally, paying for some volunteer time off may encourage your employees to complete additional volunteer work in their off hours or with their PTO.
Disadvantages of VTO
There are costs associated with VTO besides the obvious wages paid for work not performed for your company.
- Decreased productivity. While overall productivity may rise due to improved engagement, the day(s) the employee is gone still mean someone has to get that work done.
- Pressure. If not carefully managed, employees may feel pressured to find a charity to volunteer at or risk reputational loss.
- Abuse. A clearly written policy can help avoid abuse, but there is always a potential for abuse. For instance, employees may try to claim VTO for time that is being compensated by the charitable organization with wages, gifts, perks, or other benefits. They may request paid VTO for an unscheduled workday. Or, they might try to mislead you into letting them volunteer at a for-profit institution.
How to Create a VTO Policy
A VTO policy is one of the easier policies to write.
Step 1: Define your Objectives
When you understand what you are trying to achieve, you can start with the end in mind and structure the program around that.
Step 2: Manager and Leadership Buy-In
This is a critical step that happens twice: first when you are creating the policy, and again each time an employee wants to take VTO.
Managers may thank you for having a request form required in advance. This provides them the notification they need to adjust workload or cover shifts.
You might suggest that teams take a half day of VTO to complete a charity project together as a team-building activity.
Step 3: Formalize Time Tracking
Avoid opportunity for abuse by using a formalized time tracking process like you do for PTO or sick leave. Hold the time in a separate bank (whether it is all given at the first of the year, on a service anniversary, or accrued during the year) so it is not confused with other time banks.
Decide in what increments you are willing to allow VTO to be taken: hourly, half day, full day, etc.
Step 4: Thorough Policy
Make the policy thorough and clear. Include:
- Who is eligible to participate. (Must they be full-time employees? Must they have worked at your organization for a certain amount of time? Are union represented employees eligible?)
- What amount of time is offered.
- What kinds of organizations are allowable and what are not (for-profit companies of course are not allowed, but do you allow VTO at political organizations?).
- Are employees on discipline eligible?
- What kind of vetting process do you need (if any) to check the organization in advance of approving VTO?
- What kind of auditing will you have (if any) to check that VTO was used appropriately and in no more than the allotted amount?
- What kind of record keeping is needed, and by whom?
- Is the policy accompanied by a form? Does VTO need to be approved in advance? By whom?
Examples of Companies That Offer VTO
This is a popular perk to offer; 26% of employers offer paid VTO. Here are just a few companies offering VTO banks.
In 2019, Google launched a program that allows employees to do pro bono work for non-profits for up to six months.
CenterPoint provides a maximum of 400 hours per year per employee. They have posted their policy online if you wish to see a full example.
Thomson Reuters has combined their VTO and charitable donations policy into one, and posted it online as well.
University of Northern Colorado
UNCO offers 16 hours of VTO (prorated for new hires). Their policy is listed online.
Silicon Valley Clean Energy
This organization offers 40 hours of VTO and has posted their policy online.
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Questions You’ve Asked Us About Volunteer Time Off
Angela Livingston, SHRM-CP, MBA has nearly a decade of HR experience in high regulated, high tech companies that are Federal Contractors and supported people in other states. She’s worked for an international company with ~20K US employees that did a lot of immigration work, and she’s worked for a company with ~3500 US employees that doesn’t support work visas. One constant is that she’s always working with people empathetically with an eye on integrity.
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