Volunteer & Unpaid Intern Policy Guidelines

Policy Statement

Duke University appreciates the contributions of Volunteers and Unpaid Interns in fulfilling its mission of education and research. This policy provides general guidance within which departments may establish specific procedures pertaining to Volunteers and Unpaid Interns.

Policy Details

Definition of Volunteer

Consistent with definitions and guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor, volunteers are "individuals who volunteer or donate their services, usually on a part-time basis, for public service, religious or humanitarian objectives, not as employees and without contemplation of pay, are not considered employees of the religious, charitable or similar non-profit organizations that receive their services."

Volunteers are uncompensated and provide services without the expectation of pay from the volunteer activity and have no assurance or reason to expect that Duke will offer employment following the volunteer period. Volunteers are not eligible for any Duke benefits, including unemployment or workers' compensation benefits.

To ensure that an individual performing volunteer services is not an employee for purposes of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), all of the following criteria must be satisfied in order for the individual to be approved as a volunteer:

  1. The services are intended to be voluntary and to be rendered without compensation.
  2. The services must constitute a bona fide effort of the individual to volunteer for humanitarian or public service purpose or for the benefit of education, training or professional experience.
  3. Individuals volunteer their time for their own personal motives, without promise or expectation of compensation or employment.
  4. Volunteers must not be used in ways that displace or replace regular employees in the performance of their normal duties.

Definition of Unpaid Internship

Individuals who wish to volunteer for the purposes of educational or professional interest as part of a formal or informal educational program must be assessed under the following factors from the Department of Labor to determine whether an unpaid internship status exists:

  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.

If the factors listed above are met, an employment relationship typically does not exist under the FLSA, and the Act's minimum wage and overtime provisions do not apply to the unpaid intern. Further, the individual is not eligible for any Duke benefits, including unemployment or workers' compensation.


  • High School students who are learning about research either as part of a project for which they are receiving class credit at their school or are learning more about it because they have an interest in it as a career field.
  • A college student who volunteers their time to increase their knowledge and skills through hands-on training when a part-time paid position or independent study (for credit) are not options.

Who May Volunteer or Participate in Unpaid Internship and Duration

Anyone, including retirees, students, alumni, or others may provide volunteer service or perform internship activities.

A non-University student, who is under the age of 18, may only become a volunteer with parental consent. Normally, a student must be 18 to volunteer in a clinical department setting.

Individuals under the age of 16 may not become volunteers.

The initial period for volunteering should be no longer than 6 months. The relationship may be extended for an additional 6 month terms with appropriate departmental review and approvals.

This policy is not intended for one-time special event volunteers, for example, Alumni events.

This policy is not intended for volunteers or unpaid interns in the Duke University Health System who shall be subject to Health System policies.

Requirements and Responsibilities Pertaining to Volunteers and Unpaid Interns

Volunteers and Unpaid Interns are subject to and must abide by all applicable University, School and department policies, procedures and rules, including but not limited to those relating to health and safety, confidentiality, intellectual property, protected health information, non-discrimination, computer use, ethics, conflict of interest, criminal background check, drug use and anti-violence.

It is the responsibility of the sponsoring supervisor to review these policy and procedure details with the volunteer.

Foreign nationals must have the appropriate visa and authorization to engage in volunteer activities, as certified by the Duke Visa Services Office.

Prohibited Activities

Volunteers or Unpaid Interns cannot replace or be substituted for current employees or perform work that would otherwise require another individual to be employed. Volunteer services are generally limited to educational training (normally for unpaid interns), humanitarian, charitable or public service purposes and normally are rendered on a part-time and temporary nature.

University Volunteers and Unpaid Interns are also prohibited from performing the following activities:

  • Operating heavy equipment, including vehicles
  • Working with stored energy (e.g. steam, electricity, hydraulics)
  • Activity considered inappropriate for any employee
  • Entering into any contract on behalf of the University
  • Being present in a clinical setting or working with Protected Health Information (PHI), except in accordance with Duke IRB policies and procedures, or Duke University Health System policies and procedures as applicable  
  • Performing any activities not approved or outlined by the minimum safety guidelines established by the Occupational & Environmental Safety Office (OESO)


Volunteers and Unpaid Interns must satisfactorily complete all applicable training and orientation appropriate to the role prior to commencing activities. Depending on the nature of the service, training may include HIPAA requirements, health and safety precautions, lab protocols, animal lab requirements, compliance or customer service requirements.


Volunteers and Unpaid Interns are expected to conduct themselves consistent with standards of professional behavior common to all University and departmental staff. Volunteer or Unpaid Intern opportunities approved under this policy may be terminated at any time without cause or prior notice. Email accounts, keys, ID badges and other equipment issued to a volunteer or unpaid intern remain the property of Duke and must be returned upon termination.

Employees as Volunteers

Under special circumstances, an employee may serve as a volunteer when their paid work is substantively different from his/her work as a volunteer and the purpose of the volunteer activity otherwise complies with the definition in this policy. Any Duke employee seeking to volunteer in any capacity at Duke must receive prior approval from the HR Management Center after receiving department level approval. Each foreign national employee must also receive clearance from the Duke Visa Services Office before volunteering for activities substantively different than his/her paid work.

Additional Resources and Policies Governing Volunteers and Unpaid Interns

  1. For individuals who volunteer on research projects involving human subjects, please see additional requirements as determined by the Duke IRB: http://irb.duhs.duke.edu/ and http://docr.som.duke.edu/ 
  2. For individuals who volunteer in a clinical department, please see requirements as determined by Duke University Health System
  3. For individuals who are not U.S Citizens, please reference additional requirements as determined by Duke Visa Services
  4. For individuals who are under 18 and who will volunteer, please reference the Minors in Duke Programs policy
  5. For Duke Students who may be volunteering or working in unpaid internships, they should reference the requirements of the Office of Health Professions Advising group
  6. Volunteers or interns who wish to seek reasonable accommodations for a disability should contact the Duke Disability Management System.  Forms are available online at http://access.duke.edu or by calling 919-684-1424.

Procedures for Placing a Volunteer or Unpaid Intern

When selecting and engaging a Volunteer or Unpaid Intern, it is the department's responsibility to be certain the individual has adequate experience, qualifications, orientation, training and supervision appropriate to the volunteer or intern role or task they will be expected to perform.

Volunteers or Unpaid Interns:

  1. Each potential volunteer must complete the application packet that will include processes, procedures, forms and expectations specific to the assignment. This includes the Volunteer Application/Waiver Form and the Volunteer Activities Form.
  2. Acceptance of a volunteer is subject to a satisfactory reference check. A criminal background check must be satisfactorily completed prior to the assignment. The background checks should normally be coordinated through Duke Human Resources, but may also include alternate background check sources for current Duke and non-Duke students. 
  3. If the individual is returning or starting a new assignment, and, if a break in assignment is 6 months or more, all forms and processes set forth above must be completed or updated.
  4. A current volunteer whose duties materially change or who wishes to begin a new volunteer assignment must complete all forms and process set forth above.

Sponsoring Manager:

  1. Sponsoring Managers will be responsible for completing a Volunteer Activities Form, collecting the Volunteer Application/Waiver Form, and obtaining proper clearances and approvals (both within their department and from any external departments required such as OESO or Visa Services) prior to the Volunteer or Unpaid Intern's first day.
  2. Sponsoring Managers or their delegates will be responsible for requesting a DUID and a Duke NetID, if necessary, for the Volunteer or Unpaid Intern in advance of the first day, using the Sponsored Guest Tool.
  3. Sponsoring Managers are prohibited from providing Volunteers or Unpaid Interns physical files or shared drive access to electronic files containing PHI.  Volunteers or Unpaid Interns should only have access to de-identified or non-sensitive information through a sponsored guest account.  
  4. Sponsoring Managers will ensure that the Volunteer or Unpaid Intern is properly trained on all required policies (including the Volunteer policy), procedures, safety equipment, and that the Volunteer or Unpaid Intern is following/using them. Department specific policies and procedures will be addressed as appropriate. The Volunteer or Unpaid Intern will log on to the OIT website to acknowledge the Duke Acceptable Use Policy.
  5. Sponsoring Managers will ensure that the Volunteer or Unpaid Intern's activities are monitored at all times, either by the Sponsoring Manager of record on the Volunteer or Unpaid Intern activities form or an appropriate adult delegate. Under no circumstances will a Volunteer or Unpaid Intern be left unsupervised with materials deemed hazardous.
  6. Sponsoring Managers or their delegates will be responsible for collecting the Volunteer or Unpaid Intern's ID badge and other Duke property by the end of the last day in the workplace.
  7. Sponsoring Managers or their delegates will be responsible for requesting the deactivation of the Volunteer's NetID and any other Duke access upon completion of activity.
  8. The supervisor and/or department will be responsible for retaining all forms and documents for a period of three years from the date the volunteer ends the assignment.

Policy Number: 02.12


Recruitment, Hiring, & Transferring Policy