Skip to main content

University of Houston System Volunteer and Internship Guide

  • Section 1 - Guideline Statement

    The University of Houston System, including the University of Houston, UH-Clear Lake UH-Downtown, and UH-Victoria (collectively the “University”) supports and encourages all efforts made by its students, faculty, and staff to further contribute to the success, enrichment, and diversity of the University. This guide will allow individuals to provide volunteer services and benefit from volunteer opportunities while remaining in compliance with all University policies and procedures, as well as all applicable state and federal laws.
  • Section 2 - Purpose

    The purpose of this guide is to provide guidelines and procedures for the departments that want to use volunteers to perform services for the University, and for individuals that wish to provide volunteer services for educational, humanitarian, charitable, or community service purposes.
  • Section 3 - Scope

    This guide applies to all University departments that use volunteers as defined more fully in Section 4. Individuals that may qualify as volunteers include, students, faculty, staff, alumni, retired faculty and staff, and members of the public (Non-University volunteers).
  • Section 4 - Volunteers and Interns

    1. Definition of Volunteer – A “volunteer” is an individual that provides or performs services sponsored by the University or directly related to the University’s business operations and mission either on or off the premises, without any expectation, promise, or receipt of compensation, beyond reimbursements associated with the volunteer activity.


    According to the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) and under the Fair Labor Standards Act
    (“FLSA”), a volunteer is an individual who donates or performs hours of service to a non-profit
    organization for civic, charitable, or humanitarian reasons, without promise, expectation or receipt of compensation for services rendered. Volunteers are not considered employees and are not eligible or entitled to receive any employee benefits or workers compensation. Volunteers are not representatives of the University. Volunteer services are meant to enhance and further support the work of faculty and staff, and should not in any way inhibit, impair, or replace paid workers. Additionally, volunteers should not provide services or perform work that could otherwise be performed by employees, or impair the employment opportunities for other employees.


    The DOL considers the following factors in determining whether someone is engaged in “ordinary volunteerism, and no one factor is determinative:


    a) Is the entity benefiting or receiving services from the volunteer a nonprofit organization?
    b) Is the activity less than a full-time occupation?
    c) Are the services offered freely and without pressure or coercion?
    d) Are the services offered usually associated with volunteer work?
    e) Have any regular employees been displaced to accommodate the volunteer?
    f) Does the volunteer receive or expect to receive any benefit from the entity to which it is providing services?


    Under the FLSA, employees may not volunteer with a for-profit entity, with the exception of training programs where a trainee is working in the same capacity as an employee under close supervision, and the work provided is not a significant contribution to the employer.

    The following individuals shall not be considered volunteers:


    a) Current or former members of the Board of Regents;
    b) Students performing duties or providing services as a condition or a requirement of their
    academic program;
    c) Individuals participating as human subjects for research programs;
    d) Unpaid faculty members that are separately contracted for other purposes; and
    e) Students from other higher education institutions that are performing services as part of an educational agreement between the University and visiting students’ institution.


    2. Interns

    A. Definition of Unpaid – An “unpaid intern” is a student or trainee that works in a particular occupation or professional field without pay in order to gain work experience related to the students’ academic background or field of study for the purpose of furthering their career goals. Student interns may engage in unpaid internships at for-profit organizations. Unpaid interns are not employees and are not entitled to wages or benefits.

    According to the DOL, the following factors should be considered when determining if a student should be classified as a paid or unpaid intern:

    1.The extent to which the intern and the employer clearly understand that there is no expectation of compensation. Any promise of compensation, express or implied, suggests that the intern is an employee—and vice versa.
    2. The extent to which the internship provides training that would be similar to that which would be given in an educational environment, including the clinical and other hands-on training provided by educational institutions.
    3. The extent to which the internship is tied to the intern’s formal education program by integrated coursework or the receipt of academic credit.
    4. The extent to which the internship accommodates the intern’s academic commitments by corresponding to the academic calendar.
    5. The extent to which the internship’s duration is limited to the period in which the
    internship provides the intern with beneficial learning.
    6. The extent to which the intern’s work complements, rather than displaces, the work of paid employees while providing significant educational benefits to the intern.
    7. The extent to which the intern and the employer understand that the internship is conducted without entitlement to a paid job at the conclusion of the internship.

    B. Definition of Paid - “paid interns” is a student or trainee that works in a particular occupation or professional field relative to their academic program for compensation. Paid interns are considered employees that receive wages in exchange for services rendered.

    C. International Students - International students that have valid F-1 or J-1 visas may participate as volunteers and unpaid interns as long as their participation is in compliance with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Labor’s rules and regulations as listed above. Failure to comply with applicable law, or have the proper work authorization can have adverse consequences on a student’s visa status. International students that want to work as paid or unpaid interns should contact the following administrative offices listed below for assistance:


    1. UH - Office of International Student and Scholar Services,
    www.uh.edu/oisss/students/
    2. UHCL - Office of International Admissions,
    www.uhcl.edu/admissions/apply/international/ or oiap@uhcl.edu
    3. UHV - Office of International Programs, www.uhv.edu/international/ or
    international@uhv.edu
    4. UHD - Office of International Admissions, www.uhd.edu/admissions/international
    or internationaladmissions@uhd.edu

  • Section 5 - Guidelines and Procedures

    Volunteer Program – Texas law requires each governmental entity to develop a volunteer program that considers volunteers a resource requiring advanced planning and preparation for effective use. The governmental entity shall include both paid staff and volunteers in planning the implementation of the program, if practicable. (Texas Government Code Chapter 2109.003).

    A. According to state law, a volunteer program must include the following criteria (Texas
    Government Code Chapter 2109.004(a):

    1.Volunteer Training Program - Each department utilizing volunteers must develop an
    effective training program for both prospective staff and volunteers. The training should adequately describe the volunteers’ duties, and require all volunteers to comply with all local, state, and federal laws, in addition to all University policies and procedures.
    2. Use of Staff - The program must use paid staff to plan and implement the volunteer program.
    3. Evaluation Process - Each department using volunteers must evaluate the performance of the volunteers, the cooperation of the paid staff with the volunteers, and the overall volunteer program.
    4. Follow-Up Studies - Each department that uses volunteers must do follow-up studies to ensure the effectiveness of the volunteer program.
    B. Other Provisions (Texas Government Code Chapter 2109.004(b))

    1. Reimbursements -The University may reimburse volunteers for actual and necessary expenses incurred while performing volunteer services.
    2. Awards - The University may give awards such as engraved certificates, plaques, pins, or awards of a similar nature, with a value not to exceed $75 per volunteer, to recognize special achievement and outstanding services of volunteers.
    3. Collaborations - The University may cooperate with private organizations that provide services similar to services provided by the University.


    C. Employees

    1. University employees performing volunteer services during business hours must either take approved leave from their normal position, volunteer after work hours, or on the weekend unless the employee gets approval from the appropriate department administrator or supervisor.
    2. Employees may perform volunteer services during business hours if the work performed is considered minimal in nature and has very little to no impact on the employees’ ability to complete normal work assignments. For purposes of this guide, minimal is defined as meaning nominal or too insignificant to warrant consideration. The following criteria below meet the threshold for activities considered to be volunteer services that are minimal in nature:
    i. Activities that do not conflict with or inhibit the employee from completing the
    work assignments for which they are paid to perform;
    ii. Activities that do not cause the University to incur or absorb any additional cost associated with performing the volunteer services.
    iii. The volunteer services performed during business hours do not have a significant impact on the employee’s regular work hours. Volunteer services requiring no more than 1-2 hours of an employee’s time during a regular work week would be considered having an insignificant impact on the employee’s regular work hour schedule.
    3. Pursuant to the FLSA, current paid employees cannot volunteer to provide the same type of services to the University for which they are currently employed.
    4. Employees may not volunteer their services for the same department administrator or supervisor for whom they are employed.
    5. Volunteer services cannot provide a distraction for regular employees performing their normal job duties.
    6. Employees may not use University vehicles, equipment, or other resources to volunteer for organizations outside of the University unless authorized by state law, federal law, or University policies or procedures.
    7. Foreign national employees and students must receive clearance from the Human
    Resources Department and the Immigration Office prior to volunteering. International
    students should contact the same offices referenced in Section 4.2.C of this guide.


    D. Relationship to the University - There is no employer - employee relationship between volunteers and the University. The University does not compensate volunteers, and volunteers have no expectation of receiving wages or being hired for services rendered. Volunteers are not eligible or entitled to receive any benefits and are not entitled to receive workers compensation.


    E. Term - A volunteer position should not be for long periods of time, and generally should not exceed a period of six (6) months.


    F. Volunteer Requirements


    1. All volunteers must get prior approval from the department head prior to beginning a volunteer position by filling out a Volunteer Application.
    2. After receiving approval, volunteers must submit a Volunteer Position and
    Responsibilities Form and Volunteer Release and Indemnification Agreement to the
    sponsoring department. Student volunteers will complete a Student Volunteer Release and Indemnification Agreement.
    3. Minors - In addition to the forms listed above, all volunteers under 18 (minors) must complete a Minor Volunteer Parent or Legal Guardian Consent Form.
    4. All volunteer forms must be retained by the department for at least two (2) years.
    5. Volunteers will have to undergo a criminal background check. Applicants that fail the background check, or that have been previously terminated from employment, may not participate as a volunteer for the University.
    6. Applicants that want to volunteer for a particular position past a six (6) month period must get approval from the department head, in addition to completing and submitting a new Volunteer Application.
    7. If there are any substantial changes to a volunteer’s job duties, or if a volunteer wants to start a new or different volunteer assignment, the volunteer must complete a new set of volunteer forms.
    8. Volunteers are prohibited from entering into a contract on behalf of the University,
    operating heavy equipment or vehicles owned by the University without permission,
    handling any hazardous materials, or engaging in any inappropriate activities.
    9. Volunteers must complete any required training and orientation prior to starting their volunteer duties, and are subject to and must abide by federal, state, and local laws, as well as applicable University policies and procedures.
    10. All required forms referenced above are located at https://www.uh.edu/legalaffairs/
    contract-administration/contract-documents/miscellaneous-contracts-and-forms/.


    G. Responsibilities of Sponsoring Department

    The Sponsoring Department’s responsibilities for a participating volunteer are as follows:
    1. Ensure that all requisite forms are properly completed and returned to the sponsoring department, and that they are retained for two (2) years.
    2. Verifying that the applicant has successfully passed the background check and
    conducting all necessary reference checks.
    3. Selecting individuals with the requisite qualifications for performing the volunteer services.
    4. Making sure that the volunteer has reviewed and been trained on all applicable policies and procedures.
    5. Appointing a sponsor to supervise and monitor the volunteer. A sponsor may be someone who works directly for the department, or through the use of other staff or faculty.
    6. All work hours and duties set by the department or sponsor must set in accordance with all state and federal labor laws and regulations.
    7. Ensuring that volunteers will not be handling hazardous materials without proper training and/or supervision.
    8. Reading and reviewing all applicable University policies and procedures relative to the volunteer assignment.
    9. Confirming that all volunteers for the department have read and understand all applicable policies and procedures related to the volunteer assignment.
    10. Recovering any and all University property from the volunteer at the completion of the volunteer assignment.
  • Section 6 - Termination of Volunteer Position

    A. All volunteers serve at the pleasure and discretion of the University. Consequently, the University, in its sole discretion, may terminate a volunteer position at any time, for any reason, with or without cause, without notice or recourse.

    B. All property, such as equipment, security badges, keys, e-mail accounts, and any other property created for the benefit of the University shall continue to be University property, and must bereturned at end of the volunteer service term.