I’m too sick to do a volunteer job — but they’re insisting I attend anyway

A reader writes:

I signed up to a volunteer at an event a few months ago, on the condition that if I dropped out it was my responsibility to find a replacement. (I know, lesson learned, I will not be signing up again). I’m representing a business/community group but I myself am unpaid; our payment is a free ticket to the event. It involves camping as it’s in the middle of nowhere.

It’s now the day before and I’ve come down with a bug. I *might* feel better in a couple of days time, or I might feel like I do now (spaced out and needing to be close to a bathroom at all times). I suggested that I could try to come for part of it but that I’m not feeling good and not really in a state to camp (or to be honest, to lug my tent there on public transport, which was my plan). The person managing the volunteer contract says that I need to find a replacement or I have to show up for the whole thing. He said I *might* be able to get away with missing the first day but only because the client gave us shift times quite late.

Camping is absolutely the last thing I want to do right now and, to be honest, I’m pissed off. I understand that organizing volunteers is hard — but also people get sick, and I have very little chance of finding a replacement at this late notice. (For some events there is a waiting list as the free ticket is very popular, but not for this one). Whilst the event will have contracted for X people, X is large enough that missing one person will have little to no impact on how much everyone else has to do. (I didn’t think there was any money changing hands, but I’m not involved in the event contract so I guess there could be?)

What can I do? Should I argue back with the coordinator that they’re being unreasonable? Spend a bunch of money on alternative accommodations with an actual bathroom and suck up feeling shitty during the daytime? (It’s too far away to come home in the evenings.) Just not show up and feel the wrath of the coordinator and the rest of the community group? I don’t really want to do this, but also, I’m not being paid and I’ve not signed any contract myself. I don’t work for the business though lots of the other people who volunteer at these type of events also work there part-time (so I’m in a better position than them!).

My goodness. These people are being overly rigid. You’re allowed to be sick.

It’s one thing to say, “If you drop out two weeks before, we’ll need you to find coverage.” It’s also fine to say, “We’re counting on each volunteer, so please make sure you can fulfill all your shifts before you sign up.”

But life happens — people get sick at the last minute, or have family emergencies, or so forth. And coordinators of events like this need to be prepared to roll with it when that happens (which means not staffing at a bare-bones level where a couple of absences would be a disaster).

Expecting you to find coverage the day before, while you’re sick, is unrealistic. It would be fine for them to ask if you happen to know anyone who could fill in, but they should make it clear that if you don’t, they’ll handle it from here. “Find a replacement or you have to show up” is ridiculous — and unrealistic and unkind.

Throw in that they want you to camp while you’re sick and it gets even more absurd.

The best thing to do is to say to the coordinator, “I’m so sorry but I’m too sick to attend — and wouldn’t want to expose others to my germs even if I could manage it. Because the event starts tomorrow, I don’t think I’ll be able to find a replacement in time. I’m sorry about the terrible timing, which I of course wouldn’t have chosen! I’d really been looking forward to participating and hope the event goes well.”

You should also let the community group you’re representing know that you ended up getting sick and not attending, so that they don’t hear it first (and possibly with some weird spin) from someone else.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 261 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous 5*

    Good grief. OP, I hope you got this answer in time to be reassured that you don’t need to go. And I dearly hope you’ll feel better soon.

  2. Annette*

    Sounds like these people have never dealt with volunteers before. Life happens and the ‘or else’ does not apply if you’re not paying. Unprofessional and frankly clownish.

    1. ArtsNerd*

      Uh, yeah. It’s the volunteer coordinator’s job to plan for folks dropping out — it happens with much more regularity than paid staff because… it’s unpaid. Add in camping and I’d assume a 20% drop-off between registrations and arrivals in my first year (and adjusting from there.)

      This is not normal. Let the group know you’re sorry you couldn’t attend and then rest and don’t respond to any other messages from the event.

      1. Ama*

        Yeah, I work with a group of volunteers on several projects that are important to my employer’s regular operations (nonprofit funder). I have been here for six years and there has not been one single project where someone did not have to drop out at the last minute for some reason, whether they were sick, a family member was ill, or a work issue came up and they had to stay at their paying job.

        It means I have to scramble to find a replacement, which isn’t fun for me or the replacement (who is usually a volunteer that’s already attending who now has to do extra work), but everyone in the group knows that the next time, they might be the person calling out, so most of them are more than willing to chip in.

        I’m sure whoever put in those rules wants the group to take their commitment seriously but there are other ways to do that than treating someone who is *volunteering* their time and energy like crap for having to cancel.

      2. Rex*

        Whenever I’ve done volunteer coordinating I’ve assumed a 50% flake rate (unless it’s an unusually reliable cadre of volunteers).

        1. ArtsNerd*

          Yeah I was assuming it was a situation a bit like my volunteer gig, where the base is super committed and invested seeing the program thrive. 50% is probably more accurate for this type of thing.

      3. Kathlynn (Canada)*

        Yeah, I volunteered with a very laid back sorority for a couple of years. Attendance for anything not fun was horrible. Even though they picked their own time slots, I was usually the one manning the table for bake sales, etc by myself all day. There’s a reason I back out of that commitment after the second year. (the new president was also a bully soo…)

        1. Normally a Lurker*

          Yea, I was the president of a professional service org in college. Needless to say, the “fun” events we had, everyone worked to be there. I was also the only one on the regular that manned the events that paid for the fun events – no matter who said they would be there.

          Burn out on that job was rough.

      4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I came to say exactly this. Every time I’ve worked with a group that relied on volunteers, we always used the rule of halves (half the number of people will come than the number who say they’ll come). Being short-handed because someone came down with a cold is silly of the organizers and was entirely avoidable.

        But more importantly, their “contract” is kind of nonsense. Volunteers can agree to conduct, but what will they do if OP doesn’t show up? Sue for breach? (Of course not—volunteering is usually a gift, unless this is something like AmeriCorps.) It may end up singeing a bridge, or it might not be a risk at all because OP may not be likely to volunteer again with an org this disorganized and rigid.

    2. JokeyJules*

      I’ve always wonder what’s after an “or else” statement.
      “Or else!” “or else what?”

      Kind of like “I DEMAND!” “…or what?”.

      OP – unless you signed your life away in a contract, you don’t need to go if you don’t feel well. Rest, fluids, etc, and just steer clear of any organization managed by these people in the future.

      1. Jadelyn*

        Same. “You HAVE TO go anyway!” What, are they going to show up and physically drag the OP to the event? Hold them at gunpoint while they pack? It’s a VOLUNTEER gig, they can’t force you to do a damn thing. OP, don’t give them this much power over your life. Stay home, rest up and feel better, and maybe rethink volunteering with such a dictatorial organization in the future.

        1. Artemesia*

          If I am doing a volunteer thing involving camping I really really want on one of my cabin or tent mates to have a norovirus — to share with me and the others and to make camping unpleasant not just for the sick person but for the rest of us who will be getting it in about 12 hours

            1. ampersand*

              Yeah, seems a tad bit short sighted of the volunteer coordinator to demand that a sick person attend anyway!

          1. Owl*

            Good point. I would be ripshit at the coordinator who forced me to bunk with someone who then got me sick so I couldn’t go to my actual paying job.

          2. MamaSarah*

            I was totally thinking of norovirus!! It’s so contagious! Anyone with GI distress needs to stay home til they’re 100%.

          3. Natalia*

            I would assume most organizations wouldn’t want someone who was sick to be there…

            I worked at a food bank/soup kitchen and if you had a fever or stomach illness, you were not allowed to volunteer. I also know that my local hospital/nursing home won’t let you anywhere near the building if you are sick…

      2. Glitsy Gus*

        Exactly. What on earth do they think they’re going to do if you just don’t go? Literally their biggest threat is to not let you work any future events and maybe say something snarky around your community group. If this is their attitude… Oh no?

    3. Emily K*

      I was going to say….this is awfully demanding when it sounds like they have no authority to enforce any consequences. Like, what are they going to do if she doesn’t show up? Not refund the $0 she paid? Not let her attend the event she didn’t want to go to?

      1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

        I’m thinking maybe if she’s been given the free ticket, they could invoice her for it, and then sue for that cost through small claims? This might not be as consequence-free as it first appears.

        1. Jadelyn*

          …they would have to be AWFULLY petty to decide that’s an appropriate remedy. They’d probably spend more in money/time/effort going to small claims court than they’d ever get back for the cost of the ticket.

          1. Emily K*

            Not to mention an event that depends on volunteers probably doesn’t want to get a reputation for suing volunteers for getting sick if they want to continue attracting volunteers for future events.

            1. Uberflieger*

              I think it could well be a losing lawsuit. Even assuming there’s valid consideration to form a contract, the event organizer would still need to get around “changed circumstances” as a defense.

              1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

                I agree with all of that. But hubby worked for someone who *was* that petty – didn’t matter if you were employee or volunteer.
                They even had a section in their budget marked ‘suites and settlements’ because it was almost standard practice (and yes, they lost more than they won, but it was the “principle”. The man was a prat)

        2. Anonomoose*

          At least in the UK, if they tried this, it would go to small claims court.

          The judges there are normally incredibly reasonable humans, who can’t stand the “it’s the principle!” types. You’d show up, explain the circumstances, and I’d recommend bringing a doctor’s note. The judge would be almost certain to dismiss their claim against you. It might be harder if there’s a clause in the contract you signed, but they’re likely to be on your side still.

    4. Owl*

      This. This x 100. There is no “have to” OP. You’re a grown woman. They don’t get to be angry a volunteer for not doing more than you’d expect a paid employee to do (work when seriously ill or pay to work). And they absolutely don’t get to get everyone who shows up sick or guilt you because they don’t have the common sense to schedule a few extra volunteers.

      I’d be verryyyyy tempted to send a snarky response as though they were your boss and you’re reluctantly agreeing that if they can’t accommodate a sick day you’ll accept if they need to fire you.

  3. Drew*

    “I am so ill that I wouldn’t be any use to you even if I could show up, which I cannot, because I’m ill. I’m sorry for the short notice and wish you luck with the event. I’m sorry I have to miss out!”

    1. Aspie AF*

      Or “What I have will likely be contagious for a few days, so I’d rather not risk any public health issues for everyone else.”

      1. Ophelia*

        SERIOUSLY! I *definitely* don’t want a volunteer with a stomach bug coming camping with a whole host of people who are presumably eating and using the bathroom in close quarters.

        1. AnnaBananna*

          And honestly, washing your hands kinda falls by the wayside when camping. I mean, sure, there are baby wipes around but it’s totally not the same. Hands are usually wiped on shorts and considered ‘clean’. The other volunteers would be sick within 3 days max.

          1. calonkat*

            AnnaBananna, cleanliness absolutely does not HAVE to fall by the wayside. Even primitive camping, water is hauled in for cooking and cleaning. Baby wipes and anti-germ gels are a temporary fix, but soap and water are essential.

            Not that I was in a campground with 5000 historical re-enactors who accidentally recreated a historical “plague”…

    2. Daffy Duck*

      This! Please stay home and do not expose everyone else! The last thing I want is to get sick at a volunteer gig because someone didn’t stay home when they should have. The volunteer coordinator is a jerk for suggesting you expose everyone else.

    3. Seeking Second Childhood*

      If I found out I’d gotten [norovirus equivalent] from someone who KNEW she was sick before leaving, I’d be furious with whoever was running the group. Fun events should NOT knowingly expose people to germs.

      1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

        A norovirus outbreak at a crowded campground with limited, communal restrooms would be an utter travesty. *shudder*

        1. Alica*

          Yeah, I’m a helper on a summer camp that’s a week long which is almost fully run by volunteers (most of us us a week’s holiday and pay to go kind of volunteers). We had three people come down sick midweek….they got sent home, we did a disinfect of the entire kitchen tent, the washing up facilities and the toilet block and were hypervigilent for the next few days. We didn’t like having to do it, but you just cannot take those chances when you are in that kind of environment.

        2. boop the first*

          Yikes, it would be such a waste of a trip, too. I had gastroenteritis (or something) once and it was a short, but wild ride. It was the first time I’d ever felt perfectly guilt-free about calling in sick. Thing is, after the bathroom day, there’s the crash day where every muscle aches and even sitting up hurts. There is no way anyone would be working through that.

    4. Jessen*

      “I do apologize, but I’m afraid if I attended I would likely end up barfing on your shoes and I don’t want to end up having to find a replacement for those for you instead.”

      Obviously not actually what to say, but it is tempting. Adjust description of bodily functions no one wants to hear about as needed.

    5. Burned Ou Supervisor*

      “Hey, I’m sick and won’t be attending. Thanks for understanding!” I would make this deliberately short and curt (but polite) because places like this know how to use your excuse as a bargaining chip. People like this depend on some people’s nature to be accommodating and helpful. This happened to my mom when she volunteered at the Ladies Guild at her church after retirement. They just assumed she would do all the grunt work because she had time, and then they were incredibly mean to her about it. It soured her so much that she left the church that she was a member of for 40 years.

  4. RandomPoster*

    I’d also do your best to find a replacement – it’s not clear from the letter if you have done that. I know you mentioned that it would be hard, but I think it’s important to at least try.

    Just post on your work message board, Facebook, email lists, professional orgs… whatever is appropriate in the situation. And let the coordinator know that you’ve made a good faith effort and will keep them in the loop if you find someone interested in taking your spot n

    1. A*

      Agreed! Realistically you can’t be held to *having* to find a replacement, you can’t control others. Personally I would interpret that as making best efforts to find a replacement. I would post on community social media groups, as well as my personal pages and would probably offer to buy someone dinner or something when they get back if they are willing to fill in.

      1. valentine*

        I’d also do your best to find a replacement
        I’d consider illness an obvious exemption to either part of the agreement. OP should focus on healing.

        1. RandomPoster*

          Posting or sending an email seeing if someone in your network can take your volunteer shift is about as much effort as writing to Alison.

          To be clear – the OP shouldn’t go, regardless of whether or not she finds a replacement. But if you sign up to volunteer and agree to their terms, you should make minimal effort to meet those terms.

    2. TootsNYC*

      I agree–you do need to make a good-faith effort to find someone from the professional organization you’re representing.

      (in general, if there’s some requirement of having a replacement, it would be good to have a couple of backup folks already in place–though with a suddenly arising illness, may have already cut them loose to make other plans)

    3. Samwise*

      AGreed. But really, what are they going to do if you don’t show up? Fire you? Oh wait, you’re a volunteer! SMH

      1. fposte*

        I think the problem is that she’s representing a group, so there’s potential blowback for the group if there’s friction over this. Otherwise I’d be with you, and I might feel that way if it was a reasonable group with some decent cohesion that would clearly be on the OP’s side.

        1. cmcinnyc*

          Is she though? It sounds like she’s involved with this group, yes, *as a volunteer*, and cares about this group, *as a volunteer* but when you’re the kind of sick that involves “must be near the bathroom” really–you’re not in shape to be out there marshalling your resources via social media, the phone, etc. It’s not like she’s feeling great in between bathroom visits. If this happened to someone at my job, paid, we’d figure it out somehow. We would NOT insist a person with a “must be near a bathroom” bug show up at a CAMPSITE. It would get solved. By other people. And it really wouldn’t be the end of the world.

          1. EddieSherbert*

            Yeah, I have dealt with volunteers backing out of something at the last minute and it sucks, but it happens and our goal is to find a way to handle it while being kind to the person… and maybe flagging them privately as unreliable depending on the situation and how they handled it.

            But there are a few events/conferences/etc. that the organization *wants* to be involved in and that could easily find another group to replace us… so what appears to be a “flaky” volunteer can get the whole organization black-listed! Especially if something like this has happened before and this is the organization’s “second chance” – they might just be freaking out (not that that excuses rudeness!).

            So I think some effort to find a replacement would be a good call. Sorry you’re sick!

          2. Seeking Second Childhood*

            The term “blow back” in the context of a stomach bug has me snickering like a Bevis&Butthead character.

    4. China Beech*

      The OP is SICK. Yes, she agreed to a short-sighted you-have-to-find-your-own-replacement term, more thank likely expecting to not have to worry about that. She’s ILL and ultimately it’s the volunteer coordinator’s job to staff the event and plan for such HUMAN things like being sick AND contagious.

      1. ArtsNerd*

        Yes this is not her responsibility. OP could reach out to the professional group and see if someone else can step in on short notice. I don’t even know that that is any more than a courtesy, though.

        I’m also confused whether OP is the ONLY member of this group at this event. Even at our “hand out Halloween candy” events, we staff it with two+ people, and our staff is tiny. I’ve tabled events on my own before, but that has never been plan A.

      2. Working Mom Having It All*

        I feel like “you should do everything you can to find a replacement” works well if OP found out a few weeks before the event that she’ll be having surgery, or has an urgent family or work situation that will not permit her to attend.

        Literally sick in bed the day before the event is a situation where flaking is completely OK. It’s not reasonable for a sick person to find someone available to drop everything and go camp in a remote area to volunteer for a cause they may or may not have any interest in, TOMORROW.

        1. RandomPoster*

          I did t say she needed to actually *find* a replacement, just that she needed to *try to* find a replacement.

          If this is an organization that she wants to work with in the future, or that may influence her reputation personally or professionally (I’m still unsure of the possible work connections) it’s worth it to do the minimal effort to tell them you tried to find someone to take your spot. That’s it.

          1. LW*

            LW here: I did try to find a replacement in that I posted on Facebook in a couple of groups I’m in that have people that volunteer with the same business, but got no response. I didn’t feel comfortable pressuring people individually because the notice was so last minute (I had a couple of friends be like ‘oh I’m so sorry, usually I would cover but I’m really busy’, etc).

            I work in a completely different industry so have zero concerns about this affecting me professionally, but I was concerned about the personal blowback – and also concerned about the policy in general because lots of the volunteers *are* in situations where not showing up would affect them professionally.

            1. RandomPoster*

              Then you’ve done your part, IMO. I hope that you feel better soon!

              And p.s. what’s with the “volunteering” for a “business” thing about?

                1. LW*

                  Lool yes, I agree, so I’d never even really thought about the fact this was what was happening until I wrote this message.

                  The tickets to said event are otherwise pretty expensive, so in general, it is a pretty good deal for the amount of time you need to work vs the amount of time you get to spend enjoying the event. I don’t know if that changes anything about the legality or not :)

            2. fposte*

              If you’re not personally concerned about professional blowback, then let your frail flag fly and stay home. It’s inappropriate for there to be personal blowback, and if there is, that’s a measure of further problems with this org.

              I get their impulse–volunteer run stuff does have a high flake rate, as discussed elsewhere on the thread–but punishing sick volunteers is *not* an appropriate response.

            3. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

              You might not want to bother, and you certainly have no obligation to, but I wonder if you’d want to contact someone a little higher in the organization after the event and gently suggest that aggressive enforcement of that particular policy in emergency situations is not in the best interest of the organization. It seems possible that this volunteer coordinator is the Guacamole Bob of his field and the organization will want to suggest he deal with this kind of situation differently in the future.

              1. LW*

                Yeah, I sent a feedback email to the coordinator (who I’m sure is just implementing Policy from On High) and he cc-ed a higher up in his response to me. I doubt anything will come of it, but I tried!

        2. TootsNYC*

          we used the phrases “do your best” and “good-faith effort”–not “do everything you can”

          If she’s sick, then “her best” may be just calling someone from her professional organization to say, “I’m sick, I can’t represent the group and do this volunteer gig–can you find someone else?”

      3. Burned Ou Supervisor*

        I also think it’s unreasonable to ask a volunteer to find their own replacement. If you want to treat volunteers like employees, start actually paying them for their work.

        1. Allonge*

          Honestly, find your own replacement rarely makes sense to me even for paid jobs. It’s just outsourcing the manager’s job. For volunteers? It’s ridiculous.

    5. DAMitsDevon*

      If she can, it’d be a good idea, but if it’s a volunteer gig where even just one person not being able to show up could cause issues, it’s on the people in charge to prepare for that. I’m an on call volunteer for a volunteering gig where regular volunteers are assigned a 1.5 hour shift on one Saturday each month. They have on call volunteers, because the people in charge of the volunteers know that sometimes a volunteer will get sick or have some last minute conflict, and that it’s easier to pull from a pool of volunteers that you’ve already vetted than to have some potentially sick or otherwise distracted person find a sub for them.

    6. Nanani*

      She’s sick.
      This is a volunteer spot and she is just a normal volunteer, not the coordinator.

      She can drop this, recover from the bug, and delete all messages from the unreasonable.

    7. Owl*

      You must be a kinder person than I. I actually disagree w this pretty strongly. She’s sick. She shouldn’t have to work to staff a volunteer event. They should have built some buffer for people dropping out due to emergencies. I don’t call around or stare at a screen to get coverage at my paid job when I’m sick, why do it for free? You’re EXTRA not obligated to these people given their being huge butt holes.

  5. Kiwiii*

    Honestly, since you’re a volunteer, provided you’re not immensely invested in whichever cause/event/company you’re doing this through, you can and should just explain yourself to all parties and then very happily not go. If they’re weird about it, that’s on them. It won’t have any bearing on anything outside of their impression of you.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Right? I’m reading that the penalty is going to be some kind of public shaming. “OP is awful! She got sick! Didn’t find a replacement! Didn’t sleep on the cold hard ground while in agony! Didn’t spread her diseases to the rest of ussssssss” and then everyone around goes “Booooooo hisssssss you can’t play with us anymore, OP! boooooo hissssss.”

    2. PollyQ*

      Right? And what’s the “consideration” granted by the contract in exchange for OP’s commitment? None, I’m guessing. I’m sure it’s trickier when OP is representing a business group, but I’d be greatly inclined to write off this organization entirely and take my volunteer labor somewhere it’s more appreciated.

      1. TootsNYC*

        well, her professional organization might not be allowed to volunteer and get a free ticket next year. Depends whether they care or not.

        1. EddieSherbert*

          This was my thought; whoever is running the event might not be forgiving and the organization could be kicked out of the event if they don’t hold up “their end of the bargain” (supplying X volunteers). Ideally, they’d have back-up volunteers prepared if that were the case… but it sounds like they don’t.

          1. LW*

            Yes, I think this is broadly what the organisation is concerned about. (And they deal with this by passing on their obligations to the volunteers…) However, I arrived a day late and someone else couldn’t show at all (bereavement, no idea if they asked them to find replacement too…!) and the event gave glowing feedback – so in the end the staffing was sufficient, even if a bit lower than agreed in whatever contract I’ve not read.

    3. banzo_bean*

      OP says she is representing a business/community group while volunteering so I assume she does not want to upset the event coorindator for networking/professional reasons.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I would hope her own company would have a lot more compassion for her as a person than some random volunteer coordinator though.

        If someone calls in sick here, even if they’re signed up for some conference that’s costing us money and we can’t recoup the money, we just tell them to feel better soon and eat the cost of business.

        But I also regularly fire salty vendors because we don’t need their bad energy, so it could be coming from that lens. Unless they’re a huge client that bring in the big dollars, little to none of this should be accepted on the side of the OP’s firm.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          Yeah, I would hope the business/community group would understand the circumstances.

      2. Samwise*

        So OP needs to let her business/community group know what happened. And then not feel bad about it whatsoever.

        1. Carlie*

          Exactly. Any “repercussions” would only be to the group she is representing, so they should be the ones looking for a replacement (and have a lot higher potential to find someone given their ability to reach out to all employees etc). This is not on her – sickness happens.

          1. TootsNYC*

            and the group should have said, “OP is the main volunteer, but if she can’t make it, we need a backup–who will be that backup?”

    4. Joielle*

      Right? What, are they going to fire her? I think she should make whatever effort she reasonably can to find a replacement, tell anyone who might care that she’s terribly sorry, but she came down with a likely-contagious bug at the last minute and can’t make it, and then give it not one more thought.

      1. LW*

        LW here: you are right, and this was my reaction to some extent. (I haven’t signed anything, you’re not paying me, whatcha gonna do?). I am lucky in that I work in a completely different industry (this volunteer gig is related to what is a hobby for me) but lots of the volunteers *aren’t* in that position, which is a reason I thought their policy particularly crappy.

        The worst consequence for me is that I piss off some of the people in the organisation and so lose out on future volunteering opportunities (which after this experience, I’m ok with) or have trouble accessing their services (which is possible but fairly unlikely, in general most of the stuff they do is accessible to the public so they’d struggle to blacklist me even if I get blacklisted as a volunteer)

        1. JessicaR*

          I’m having such a hard time envisioning what kind of organization this is. Would be interested in more details.

            1. Uberflieger*

              LW, you’re being far too polite with this officious and power-hungry volunteer coordinator. You need to adopt a firm and unequivocal tone with her: “so that we are clear, I am sick with norovirus and unable to attend at this event. While I am disappointed at that, I will not be accommodating your request to find last-minute replacements. I wish your event well.”

              And if you want to continue to be involved with this hobby in some way, go over the volunteer coordinator’s head and complain to her superiors. *You’re* the customer here. It’s like Burger King. You get to have it your way.

              The volunteer coordinator is figuring you’ll be polite and won’t kick up a fuss. Don’t indulge her.

    5. Zipzap*

      If the “penalty” was not being allowed to volunteer again at an event run by the same folks, I’d probably say “Thank you! I appreciate that!” to the coordinator.

  6. NerdyKris*

    Is this LARPing? (Live Action Role Playing) This sounds like the one and only time I went to a LARP group.

    1. A*

      We must have attended the same one haha. I’m perma banned. I didn’t know that apparently the chapter I was visiting did not approve in finding humor in the situation – it’s Serious Business. I laughed uncontrollably when someone threw a sandwich baggy of dried herbs (like McCormick dried cilantro style) at me. Apparently I was supposed to know it meant ‘spider web’ and was supposed to crouch down and wiggle as if I was trapped.

      LOL, it’s a bunch of 30 something year olds running around in a field throwing sandwich baggies at each other. HOW IS THIS NOT FUNNY?!?! I wasn’t even laughing at them, just generally finding humor in it – NOPE. Kicked off the field and perma banned. To be fair, me laughing even harder when they told me that did not help matters.

      1. Barefoot Librarian*

        It definitely doesn’t sound like boffer/combat larp is for you lol. You have to be able to suspend disbelieve pretty effectively. It can be distracting when someone is laughing during a serious scene. It’s like someone laughing during a dramatic moment in a play.

        That being said, the quality of people running larps vary greatly from group to group. After all, they are almost all volunteer run. I’m in a fantastic group right now, but a few years back I took some friends for the first time and they evidently didn’t have enough monster volunteers for a big field battle. We ran back and forth for *two* hours fighting a group of at least 30 people with only three of us playing monsters. Our feet were blistered and my friend was near tears. When we told the coordinator we had to stop, he screamed at us and said we’d get no gold or experience if we didn’t stay until the end of the fight. That was the last time I went to that larp.

    2. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

      As a LARPer–please do not come to game if you are sick. We are all cold and sleep-deprived and someone’s germs can wreak havoc. LARP plague is too common as it is.
      That said, some communities can fail at prioritizing the “life over larp” mantra and get pissy if needed players/npcs suddenly can’t be there, so I hear you. That’s a really bad approach for a group to take.

    3. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I’ve just got to hope that it’s not an outreach event for sick/injured/disabled children because they REALLY don’t need to be knowingly exposed to more illness.

  7. Tiara Wearing Princess*

    Needing to be close to a bathroom and camping are mutually exclusive.

    Post on social media asking if anyone is interested in taking your spot, tell the coordinator that you have done so and end conversation by saying, ‘I’m so sorry, I am too ill to attend’. The End.

    Life happens.


    You aren’t being paid. What is the fallout for not showing up? You aren’t losing money, just a free ticket to the event which you aren’t attending because you are ill. Can you be fired from your organization for not going? This org can’t force you to do anything. Did the contract you sign include a monetary penalty you must pay to the org for not volunteering?

    1. LW*

      Nope. The coordinator repeatedly used the phrase ‘you signed to say you were happy to find cover’ but the actual sign up was a web form (I did not ‘sign’ anything) and included the phrasing ‘if you decide not to come you are responsible for organising a replacement’ when I would (and have) argued that being ill is not a decision!

      1. DirectorOfSomething*

        Having coordinated many a volunteer event, I can tell you LW, 90% of people in your shoes would have just no-showed to this event. You are clearly trying to do the right thing by letting them know ahead of time and they are reacting poorly because they are more worried about their event than they are about you. You know the right thing to do – stay home. You need to do that for you and for the health of every other volunteer. It’s sounds like you’re not going to get affirmation from the coordinator that you are doing the right thing. But you are.

        If it makes you feel better, the coordinator is probably not operating at his/her best right now and definitely not thinking clearly. You have done everything right – and it’s perfectly appropriate to stop communicating with this person. You have done your best and it’s time to stop worrying about them (they are the coordinator! They can handle this!) and just concern yourself with getting better.

  9. blink14*

    You didn’t sign anything, and there’s no money coming to you, so no – you don’t have to show up for the whole thing or really any of it.

    If you are able to reach out to some people who may be interested to volunteer, do that, and either way let the coordinator know you aren’t going to be able to make it. It’s on them to deal with the fact they may not have hired enough people to cover potential absences.

  10. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Honestly you should cut ties with this group, no matter how much you like their mission or whatever it is. They’re awful and treating someone who’s ill like trash is such strange and unacceptable behavior, I’d want nothing to do with these people again.

    I would at least try to round up a replacement like others have suggested. Then you can say “Look, I’m sick. I can’t make it. I did try to find a replacement. I couldn’t find anyone. I won’t be able to attend, I’m sorry for the inconvenience. [I’m gonna go lay on the floor by the toilet now, byeeeee.]

    1. Great Grey Owl*

      As someone who used to do volunteer work, I have found that treating volunteers like trash is not unusual. In this case, they are taking the risk to the reader’s safety and everyone else’s safety.

      If they are camping, they may not be close to medical facilities. What if the reader gets worse? Are they going to be able to find the reader emergency medical care or is reader screwed? Moreover, if what if the reader is contagious? Do they really think it is a good idea to expose other volunteers and attendees to whatever bug the OP is carrying?

      Now, as far as finding a replacement is concerned, may the reader’s place of employment would be be able to help. But in any case, I don’t think that finding a replacement should be the reader’s priority at the moment.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I’m lucky, my experience is that volunteers are treated well. It could be that I only tend to surround myself with decent people and will snap at people if they test me too much. “Well you said you’d come, so you have to.” “Yeah about that. Try to make me.”

        I’m the nicest person in the world until you push me, I tell you to stop and you push me again. Then I’m grouchy. You keep it up? Then I’m just mean and will actively destroy your business online, to individuals I know and debate hiring a skywriter to really drive my point that I’ve been wronged home!

        Seriously, I care about the well being of living beings more than I care about anything else. So if it’s the volunteer who’s sick, their family that’s sick, their cat that’s sick, I care more about them as living, breathing individual than any spot that needs to be filled at an event. You always bring on more than enough volunteers or you don’t have enough to host an event and you don’t host the event.

        One of my absolute favorite non-profits around here had to stop doing an annual event because they couldn’t get enough volunteers and they couldn’t get enough people to donate despite the massive amount of people who turned out. Did they treat people poorly? No. They just made the right decision to stop running their few people into the ground “for the cause” and focused on their actual mission, which is caring for the animals they have taken in.

    2. LW*

      NGL it really soured my whole impression of the organisation. They try to put across this image of being a community and being supportive (and to be fair, mostly succeed!) but I’ve heard they don’t always treat their employees well (specifically treat them like contractors when they’re effectively not) and now with this… yeah I’m gonna look up alternatives.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        This place makes me wanna rage all over them personally, I feel personally victimized by them on your behalf!

        I’m glad you were able to get them off your GD back and am in awe that you showed up even for the second day. I think you handled everything well despite the bullsh*t you were dealt.

        It’s true, a lot of organizations are great but have those thorns in their leadership/overall entity and therefore those thorns make it impossible for anyone to really stick it out for long. These places deserve to fail honestly.

  11. Suzy*

    I would reach out to the business/community group you are representing and ask if anyone is available to take on this volunteer task, as you are ill and unable to attend. Also, it is absurd for this coordinator to INSIST that someone sick 1. volunteer anyway, thus infecting others 2. CAMP!

  12. Marissa*

    I think language matters a lot here. “Come down with a bug” sounds similar to “under the weather” to me and could sound like flaking out, especially to a coordinator doing a million things before the event and now has the added stress of losing a volunteer the day before the event. I don’t think the reaction of the coordinator is reasonable, but if you can make it clear that you’re too sick to physically do the job of volunteering maybe they’d back off a little. Also, if you’re there representing the business/community group, is there someone else in that group that could step in on short notice? Or a supervisor you could inform so they could look for someone? I imagine if they promised to send a volunteer they’ll be eager to help find a new one.

    Get some rest and feel better!

    1. Moray*

      This hadn’t occurred to me! There are times to use “under the weather” or “a bug” and circumstances when it’s appropriate to be more explicit. “No. I can’t. I’ve been vomiting all day.”

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      “Come down with a bug” screams “I’m pooping my pants!” to me. Since it’s usually a stomach bug.

      Bugs tend create the poops and pukes. Since they’re reeking havoc on your system until they pass through said system.

      Whereas under the weather could be an assortment of things, including just being not mentally refreshed. Which yeah, I could see as probably too light of wording but at the same time, it is what it is and we should expect adults not to “fake sick” like they’re grade schoolers, you know.

      1. MarsJenkar*

        To me, it implies the inability to keep the contents of one’s stomach in said stomach. I don’t associate “bug” with a minor illness, or even the common cold (which should be enough to keep a person home). Either way, a “bug” suggests something serious enough that staying home is the correct option.

      2. Marissa*

        I didn’t realize “bug” meant stomach bug to others. It sounds so much less serious to me, like I have a cough or just general ickiness. Good to know I might not be meeting minds on that, thanks!

    3. JSPA*

      Explicitly term it a “communicable disease,” unless you have strong reasons to believe it’s not.

      Even if it’s not norovirus-level-communicable, food poisoning is communicable in the setting of a camp (without running hot water close at hand and strict attention to food-handling protocols) where it might otherwise not be.

      1. JSPA*

        Note: do not then go to some other event and post pix on facebook, even if you’re feeling better.

        And do ask them if there will be cell service there, so you can let know that if the situation improves, such that you’re not communicable and you stop having to rush to the bathroom on short notice, as you’ll come out and join them later in the week(end) if you can safely do so.

    4. Damien*

      Working in a care home has conditioned me to associate “coming down with X” as code for “trains leaving both ends of the station”, or at the very least a nasty phlegm-sounding cough.

  13. Anita Brayke*

    I mean, you can try to find a replacement, but I can’t see how they can force you…you’re a volunteer. What will they do, fire you?

    (I almost added: “Cough. All the time. If this makes you want to vomit, aim for the organizers’ shoes.”)

    1. Auntie Social*

      ” I even asked other patients in the emergency room!! Turns out they’re sick too….”

  14. many bells down*

    I’m a longtime volunteer and yeah, stuff happens. I just recently had to duck out of a commitment myself due to a family emergency. The volunteer coordinator has NEVER made it my responsibility to find someone else; in fact I only know how to even contact one other volunteer so it would be impossible.

    One time we even had a guy volunteer for a multi-day event where volunteers got a free ticket to attend the rest of the event. He showed up for the very first event shift and 15 minutes in told the coordinator that it was “too boring” and he was leaving his post to attend the event. For free. She had to shuffle the rest of us around to cover the gap. Now THAT’S dick behavior. Not being sick.

    1. Iron Chef Boyardee*

      “One time we even had a guy volunteer for a multi-day event where volunteers got a free ticket to attend the rest of the event. He showed up for the very first event shift and 15 minutes in told the coordinator that it was ‘too boring’ and he was leaving his post to attend the event. For free.”

      They should have confiscated his ticket and kicked him out of the event unless he was willing to pay. (Unless the event was sold out, in which case, bye-bye fake volunteer.)

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yuck! I hope that they at very least made sure to keep his name on a “Never Ever Not This Jerkwad Ever Again” so he can’t pull this on them again.

      I would have totally flagged security down and had them escort him out for not upholding his end of the bargain for that free ticket. Which is the most that anyone can do in that kind of case if you really want to make a point and have the ability to have them kicked out.

      1. many bells down*

        I mean, he was checking badges, which IS boring, but… the way you get the more interesting jobs is to be a reliable and regular volunteer so… Plus he was new, so he wouldn’t have been able to handle something like the info desk which requires a good deal of knowledge about the event, the building itself, and the surrounding area.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Actually I’ve done that job at events and it’s only as boring as the attitude of the volunteer.
          You meet everyone coming through! And come to think of it, I know a marrief couple who met while doing the overnight shift at a sign-in booth.

    3. LilySparrow*

      I volunteer regularly at a place that has a group text list, so if we have a last-minute conflict we can shoot a quick note to see if anyone can cover.

      But that’s a “Hey guys, if you’re texting the coordinator to say you’re out, could you please just text the group to save time?”

      It’s not a matter of it being our sole responsibility to find our own coverage.

  15. banzo_bean*

    I’d be tempted to email the day of and say:
    “oh gosh, I tried to take public transit to the event and ended up fainting- any chance someone can pick me up from the hospital and get me to my volunteer shift? I understand there is a 0 tolerance policy for absences. You should probably warn whomever comes to put a plastic cover on their car seats- I’d hate for the vomit to ruin it and I really just can’t seem to stop.”

    1. 8DaysAWeek*

      Totally. I came here to say I wouldn’t be afraid to re-emphasize that you have not been able to leave the bathroom. I think that trumps everything here and if they don’t let it go, they are being the jerks and it will reflect on them, not you.
      I once had a manager make me keep a meeting just after coming out of general anesthesia. Wouldn’t reschedule to before I went under the knife. The kicker was it was only a 5 minute meeting to tell me if I still had my job (layoffs) and they were afraid if I had my meeting before my surgery I would blab to my co-workers if I still had my job or not before they all had their meeting. Not my first priority AND I would have been unconscious. Not really able to text in those circumstances.

      1. Zipzap*

        Just curious – how did you attend a meeting just after coming out of anesthesia? Was it by phone or video? (And your manager was a total jerk.)

        1. 8DaysAWeek*

          It was phone and I had to delay pain meds for over an hour so I would be “awake” for the call.
          Fortunately my manager was great. It was his manager that was being the jerk and wouldn’t let me postpone.

      2. Essess*

        Interesting, because any time I’ve had a procedure with general anesthesia, they give a form that states I am not to do any business or transaction for the rest of that day.

  16. Anonymous Celebrity*

    The words “volunteer” and “insist” do not belong in the same sentence. For obvious reasons. They have zero leverage, and they ought to know that. The words “you and what army” come to mind.

    If you’re feeling up to it, give the organizer the names of some people you think might be willing to take your place, and the organizer can contact them. Hopefully someone who isn’t in constant need of a puke bucket will step in to take your place. Otherwise, they’re SOL.

    Honestly, the headline for this piece made me laugh out loud. The organizer/person you spoke to is delusional. The only thing they seem to be really good at is generating ill will for their organization.

    1. Yvette*

      This reminds me of the letter from the person whose boss wouldn’t let her resign. “You have to attend!” “You can’t resign!” Um, no.

  17. Dean Winchester*

    Exactly how are they going to force you to do anything? You’re a volunteer not an employee. I would seriously reconsider my involvement with any group that would treat volunteers like cattle.

  18. Amethystmoon*

    You are totally allowed to say no, especially since you are sick. I think part of the problem that organizations like to guilt people into not saying no is they do have trouble finding people who have the time to help. So most of the time, it winds up being the same people who help again and again. (This is from my experience with a large volunteer organization.) The few times I have said no, I was actually sick or injured. I’ve had volunteers cancel at the last minute for things. I’m glad they didn’t attend and spread the flu around to the rest of us. Plus, you never know in a large setting who might be immuno-compromised and all that stuff. It could actually be a liability.

  19. Rust1783*

    Folks are often totally unrealistic in what they expect volunteers to do. It really drives me nuts. I recently went to a big street fair that was organized by a developer who is building a fancy new hotel. He reached out to all these nonprofits and convinced them all to send volunteers to staff the event itself, in exchange for getting a booth or a table (which would ALSO need to be staffed by volunteers). The event was basically a huge advertising campaign for the new hotel, plus lots of local food and drink purveyors who paid their staffs to be there and charged for their products. Nothing was contributed to any of these nonprofits besides “exposure.” As I type this, I realize this is relatively analogous to the way people try to convince professional musicians to do stuff for free all the time and get paid in “exposure.”

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yeah it’s probably the oldest marketing trick in the book.

      It’s up there with “Donate to us! We will then print you company name on this super special “banner” that will fly at the event!” or “We’ll add your name to the donor list and that’s exposure! Free advertising!”

      I’ve had this happen a lot in the for-profit world, it’s not just non-profits and artists that get baited. But they do like free entertainment, that’s for sure since it reels more people into their event and they are the ones who will get the majority if not all the actual exposure.

    2. Tartini’s Thrilling Trills*


      Yup. This is why I quit. Abusive teachers, conductors, and poor working conditions?



      1. Pipe Organ Guy*

        Exposure! What a great way to pay the mortgage, utilities, etc., and buy food and clothing!

    3. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

      Yeah, “exposure” to other people who’ll expect you to work for free, because when they ask their friend how much she paid you she’ll probably tell them the truth.

  20. Xandria*

    This is a terrible way to treat volunteers! I spend a lot of time coordinating volunteers, for various companies. And I ALWAYS over staff, I don’t think I’ve ever ran an event were I didn’t have at least two no-call, no-shows. Thats just the volunteer coordinator life. And if you want people to volunteer for you again, you better treat them kindly and with respect.
    She should have said to you, “o no! I’m so sorry you’re not feeling well, I hope you get better soon and we look forward to having you next time!”

    Ugh people.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yes, to the overstaffing! Every time I’ve volunteered, there have been more than enough of us so that people could have breaks as well and we could rotate without anyone getting totally burned out as well. It also accounts for when a couple of your volunteers opt out halfway through an event along with your couple of no-shows.

      They’re being paid with a ticket to the event ffs, it’s not costing you that much unless you have a super small space.

  21. Betsy S*

    I’m also curious about ‘volunteer’ and ‘business’ being in the same sentence. Is the ‘client’ making money from this?

    Absolutely, people get sick and a smart volunteer coordinator will be NICE to volunteers. They need volunteers to come back. I volunteer for a not-non-profit music festival with camping (not sure I want to go so far as to say ‘for-profit’) and they know that without volunteers there would be no festival. When I had to bow out one year because of injury they were VERY nice about it. They did ask nicely if I could volunteer if I had a sit-down position but I felt I wouldn’t be able to camp, and that was that. And I came back all the subsequent years, which I’m guessing you won’t feel motivated to do at this point.

    Also seriously, the LAST thing you want at a camping festival is a volunteer with a stomach bug. Not only will you be miserable, but you’d be a health risk to other campers. Tell them it might be contagious and you don’t want to wreck the event for others.

  22. nnn*

    I wonder if you could align the “don’t feel the wrath of the volunteer coordinator” and “represent the community group” goals by asking the community group if someone else can replace you?

    Maybe something like:

    Hey, Community Group,

    I was supposed to be representing the group at Event, but I’ve fallen ill and can’t possibly attend. Would anyone be interested in attending in my place? You can, of course, use my camping equipment if you’re able to come pick it up from my home. (Unfortunately I’m not able to leave the house for long enough to bring it to you)

    This is a demonstration of a good-faith attempt to find a replacement, it gets you ahead of the messaging if Volunteer Coordinator complains to Community Group, and it creates a situation where, even if no one offers to replace you, all the other members of Community Group have also declined to fill in the gap left by your absence (as opposed to them learning after the fact that the group went unrepresented), meaning the lack of a representative at the event is now less than 100% your “fault”.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      After “fallen ill” add “with a stomach bug and I am probably contagious.”
      Otherwise it’s perfect.

  23. FowlTemptress*

    I don’t know, I can understand their frustration. If having to provide a replacement was one of their rules, then I feel like OP should have arranged for the possibility that something like this might happen. Now this place isn’t going to have a volunteer they counted on, and OP doesn’t seem willing to abide by the rule that was given when she signed up. It’s not like they told her this AFTER she told them she wasn’t feeling well.

    1. WellRed*

      It’s not like most of us assume we may get sick the day before an event and therefore should cover all possible contingencies from now until forever. If it was her regular work they would presumably manage. The volunteer org needs to do the same.

      1. FowlTemptress*

        Then she shouldn’t have signed up. The rules were clear. I’m not saying the rules make sense, but she agreed to them.

        1. Dahlia*

          They shouldn’t have signed up because they might have gotten sick the day before? Boy with that attitude, you’re not going to have any volunteers. What if they’d gotten hit by bus and were in the hospital?

        2. LW*

          Hey, LW here. I do understand this point of view (and I was conflicted about whether I was being reasonable, else I wouldn’t have contacted AAM, but)

          1) the wording on the sign up said ‘if you decide not to come you will be responsible for organising a replacement’ – I would say this doesn’t make it particularly clear it includes illness, and
          2) the only way to sign up and fully ‘obey’ the rules would be to have a back up agreed in advance to keep their weekend free on the offchance they get to go. I don’t think that’s likely/reasonable you’d get someone to agree to that without paying them or providing some other benefit, in which case imo it makes way more sense for that responsibility to be on the organisation rather than the individual volunteer.

          1. JSPA*

            Exactly right. (Maybe the volunteer coordinator you dealt with is an under-trained replacement.) ; )

        3. Cruciatus*

          What if there was a death in the family? People get sick. They should have had a “standby” section on the volunteer form so in the event of someone being unable to go, there was a list of people who could be contacted next. But this is much too rigid.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It’s pretty outlandish to find out a “stand by” “just in case” you get sick the day before an event though. Nobody plans to come down with the crud right before an event they’re looking forward to. Also I’d love to know where you find people who are cool with being on stand-by for some kind of volunteer event they probably aren’t that interested in. “Hey so Nancy, will you cover me just in case I get sick? I’ll call you in the morning to confirm that I’m okay to go but otherwise don’t make any plans for Tuesday the 27th okay! You’re awesome, love you Nance!” No. Just no.

      1. Amethystmoon*

        It depends on the event. As a Toastmasters member, we have events where we have to have key note speakers, the actual Toastmaster (emcee, for non-TM members) of the event, and so forth. It’s a good idea to have substitutions lined up for major roles, but that should be the coordinator’s job, not the volunteer’s job.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          That’s totally understandable if it’s an active function of the event!

          When I read “volunteer”, I’m more versed in showing up to punch tickets, hand out swag or spin signs to get people over the bounce castle. So if it’s more of an active participant situation like you’ve noted, I see the point for sure.

          You’re also less likely to call in sick if you have that kind of active role, unless you’re really on the floor sick. Since you feel more of a commitment with that kind of active role. Whereas when it’s just to keep the lines for the bathrooms at the festival moving, totally not going to have a standby.

    3. Combinatorialist*

      I would potentially fill in for someone else. I would 100% not hold open time on my calendar to fill in if someone else happened to fall ill at just the wrong time unless it was some super high risk, high priority event (like if I have a friend who has committed to walk the Queen’s corgis or be sent to the Tower, then I would hold the time in case the friend was sick). Who would do that for a volunteer job at a festival?

      1. cmcinnyc*

        Yeah, if I’m running with the Olympic Torch I’m pretty sure I can find someone who will be on standby for me. But a camping trip last minute? No.

    4. ArtsNerd*

      I’m actually deeply concerned by the “find a replacement” clause. In an event this complicated, why aren’t they vetting their volunteers!?

    5. Malarkey01*

      That’s just not how staffing with volunteers works. You are trying to get people to run your event out of the goodness of their hearts (and a free entry). You really cannot put “rules” on grown adults who are doing you a favor and helping you out in the first place. When you do that the result is no one volunteers for your organization and he loser is the organization/event.

      You hope that most people honor their commitments once they sign up but you can’t get snippy or hold someone to an arbitrary “rule” when they are a volunteer and certainly when they are sick.

      1. RandomPoster*

        I’m part of a well respected volunteering organization and we have a similar policy for shifts you sign up for. Granted, we have a member base that you can ask for someone to cover your shift, but still. I don’t think this is so out of place, is it?

        In a case like this I still wouldn’t go when I was so ill and contagious, but I would certainly try my best to find someone to go in my place.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          I think asking is out of line and especially if it’s possibly as simple as sending out an email blast to the member base to see if anyone can step up.

          I think that trying is the best thing to do, it shows respect for the organization and the pickle they’re now in.

          I’m only enraged over the “demand” and attitude of “well you simply cannot just not come, you come or else.” in the OP’s case.

          I think that it already speaks well of the OP that she called in to say she’s too sick to attend. Lots of people would just go “I’m not getting paid, ef this, just no-showing.” Which I don’t think is appropriate either and that’s a bad volunteer that should be removed from any kind of rotation.

        2. Malarkey01*

          I’m a board member of a well known volunteer organization made up of highly competent, dedicated people. However we constantly have to remind people that we are a volunteer organization. Nine years ago they tried to crack down and remove people who had to cancel a volunteer obligation. As a result this long stand organization lost 20% of their membership in 3 years because adults didn’t tolerate being treated that way, and we are just now recovering. Good volunteers have so many time commitments and opportunities for volunteering. While you can have standards, you have to recognize that cracking down or placing unreasonable restrictions on people lead them to leave.

      2. Ophelia*

        Also, this is why you try to find more volunteers than you really need, so that inevitably, when life happens, the event isn’t put in jeopardy.

    6. Jennifer Juniper*

      Hard disagree. She didn’t know she was going to get sick. How is she expected to find a replacement when she is chained to the toilet and feeling lousy?

    7. Botanist*

      So everyone who volunteers should also be required to name their back-up replacement when they sign up, just in case they get sick or have an emergency? Might be a good way to scare off potential volunteers.

    8. Great Grey Owl*

      I have no sympathy for their frustration. If you want people to donate their time and labor to you for free, you need to be flexible. And, if you want them to continue to work for you for free, you need to treat them with respect. Under no circumstances, should you be a stickler for the rules because being a stickler for the rules means you will not retain volunteers.

      In this case, they should have a contingency plan in place for emergencies like this because shit happens. And people can’t always plan ahead to find a replacement. For example, had the OP been involved in a serious car accident and hospitalized as a result, the OP may not have been in a condition to notify them much less find a replacement.

      The OP isn’t a flake who cancelled at the last minute because she wanted to do something more “fun.” People do get sick and, in some cases, their illnesses can be very serious. The OP cancelled at the last minute because the OP was sick. And the OP’s health is more important to the OP than this event. Indeed, it is quite possible that the OP might have been too sick to complete the relevant tasks. Having to run to a toilet every few minutes to vomit in not conductive to getting work done.

    9. EddieSherbert*

      This person didn’t handle it well and should have shown some compassion for OP being ill, but I personally think most of the comments are being overly harsh to the organization.

      I actually think the ‘contract’ was an OK idea to get their point across – because gosh darn it, it SUCKS to work for a nonprofit (or maybe this person is also a volunteer and not even paid), to have to depend on volunteers for things, and then to have to scramble every time one of them just… skips/ghosts/forgets/decides to go to the beach/gets sick.

      Realistically, they should have gone into this knowing the contract was a good way to really emphasize their point about the commitment… but not something they could enforce!

      One thing I really urge the OP to in mind is that we don’t how many other people decided not to go at the last minute, if they had any “backup volunteers,” what happens to the organization’s relationship with this event if they don’t show with enough people, etc.

      I don’t think OP needed to “plan” for a backup *themselves*, but it’d be nice to put out some feelers for a replacement now (even if the person’s attitude makes you not want to do that).

      1. LW*

        As above, I did put out ‘feelers’ for a replacement, I was just pretty pessimistic about how that would ever work – There was a sign up list way in advance where a large group of possible attendees are asked to sign up to weekends where they are free and able to attend the event. Anyone who signed up but not assigned to the event becomes the ‘wait list’. There was no wait list for this event, which effectively means that all the people who would usually volunteer had already said no, they’re not free.

        Personally I think if they’re really relying on a set number of people the ‘waitlist’ needs to be more organised and presumably come with some benefit (money? First pick of the next years events) to encourage people to hold free their weekend without any guarantee of an event ticket.

        I’ve worked temp jobs at events where this was standard practice (you agree to show up at the beginning of the shift and cover incase someone doesn’t show up – if everyone shows up you go home and get paid for 4 hours or w/e to cover the hassle of travelling).

    10. Baru Cormorant*

      I think the biggest issue with this is not that LW “should have known” or “should have planned for the possibility,” but that LW is not the person in the best place to find a replacement. I doubt LW has everyone’s contact information or the authority/spreadsheets required to swap shifts around. So even if LW had planned for being sick, I don’t see how she could have arranged for her own coverage. Sounds like a job for the volunteer coordinator.

    11. JSPA*

      “Replacement” applies to a voluntary absence, or a situation where someone can reasonably forsee the problem. This isn’t that.

      Presumably they don’t expect every volunteer to have another committed backup person for their entire promised time; that would require someone sitting home the entire time twiddling their thumbs, waiting for the “I broke my leg” call.

      If they do require that level of commitment? Then they’re horrible at planning, because it de-facto means that they have a shadow staff that’s as large as their actual working staff, not doing any work. Or to put it another way, they’re missing out on 50% of their willing volunteers. That’s egregious foolishness for an organization large enough to put on an event needing multiple volunteers.

    12. Tam*

      100% agree with FowlTemptress. The terms were clear. Did she know she would be sick? Should she have to work while ill? Of course not. But OP had an obligation to at least attempt to have a backup in place since this commitment was on behalf of a group and not merely herself.

    13. Salymander*

      OP was supposed to find coverage if they decided to not attend. That is not the same as getting really, horribly sick. Also, OP did try to find coverage.
      This organization is ridiculous. Or the coordinator is ridiculous. Maybe both. Strict enforcement of this policy is bizarre and unkind, and is a good way make sure that volunteers do not return for future events.

  24. in a fog*

    This organization needs a lesson in volunteer management. If you’ve dealt with volunteers enough, you know that there will be people who flake out, so either you get more volunteers than you need or you pay people to be there. OP is *sick*, not flaking out — and if they think OP is lying to get out of it, then they’re terrible and not worth worrying about.

    Stay home, OP, and feel better!

    1. Auntie Social*

      Why is the coordinator not worried about a volunteer with an intestinal bug being around donors??

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Wouldn’t you love it if you showed up an event and saw that there was a volunteer that was noticeably sick?!

        Support The Cause and get yourself some complementary stomach virus while you’re here! *spins a sign*

    2. fhqwhgads*

      Yeah in my experience it’s totally normal to assume 10% of volunteers will not show up, so the number you need to have sign up accounts for that. Unless some practical matter of this event means they absolutely cannot accommodate having more volunteers than expected, the volunteer coordinator should’ve assumed some people would bail. Now maybe they did, maybe there’s something more behind the scenes and OP was the 10th person to call off that day and they’d already burned through their buffer and the person she spoke too was panicking and not being straightforward and desperately hoping with a bit of badgering she could convince OP to come and didn’t really understand the extent of the illness…but I doubt it given their “find your own replacement” thing. They just seem unreasonable and ill-prepared.

  25. SheLooksFamiliar*

    People get sick, guaranteed. They sometimes have to drop out of an event, personal or professional. It happens, and planners of these events should anticipate that. If someone can’t make it to the event, the only appropriate response is, ‘I’m so sorry you can’t be here, we’ll miss you! Take good care of yourself and get some rest.’

    Heck, I’ve seen volunteers show up for the event, sick though they were, and they were told to go home and heal. We were short-handed after that but, really, it wasn’t a big deal.

  26. Heidi*

    It’s probably not in their best interest for you to attend the event sick, either. What if you needed medical attention? Are they going to call an ambulance to come to the woods?

  27. Jennifer Juniper*

    Ugh! If they’re complaining about a volunteer shortage, I can guess why!

    Seriously, OP, let the community group know you’re sick with something contagious. Then turn your phone off, get some meds, and rest until you feel better.

    Let the jerks sit and spin.

  28. we're basically gods*

    If you’re sick in a way that means you need to be near a bathroom, camping is like, the worst thing for you to do. I was a summer camp in high school once when there was a horrible outbreak of norovirus; I managed to dodge it, but I think literally half the camp wound up quarantined, and we all had to go home a day early.
    You aren’t just taking care of yourself, you’re protecting everyone else from the same gross!

    1. Dean Winchester*

      OMG. I had norovirus once, and I can’t imagine having while at camp. I remember fainting and was lucky enough to be next to the bed when I fell over. That’s a ride home from hell.

  29. Bunny Girl*

    It’s funny, I was just having this conversation the other day with someone who also volunteers quite a bit in my community (as do I) and it’s amazing how many groups just have really unrealistic requirements of people who are donating their time to help out. On one hand, I do get it. You need to be able to count on a certain number of people showing up at certain times so you can get your business done… but people who are volunteering normally have other stuff going on! It’s hard to expect someone who also works full time to be able to commit to an additional 6 hour shift every single week; it’s hard to expect someone who has family commitments to always be able to drop what they’re doing to be able to help; it’s really hard to expect someone to come in when they aren’t getting paid when they are sick. And yet there are these groups that use volunteers regularly, and get overly rigid and strict with them, and then word spreads and they stop getting volunteers, and no one can figure out why.

    I do think it’s sort of crazy to expect people to find replacements when they are volunteers. If you are seriously having trouble getting your events done, then you need to try to over staff them so when/if people need to cancel for their health or their family or whatever.

    As for the OP, I think Alison’s advice is good. Don’t go camp somewhere and spread your bug to other people and make yourself miserable. Just tell the coordinator, tell your group, and don’t worry about it. If you want to try to reach out to people on Facebook or in your professional network as others have suggested to try to get coverage, then that’s up to you, but only do it if you’re feeling up to it.

  30. MommyMD*

    Unpaid volunteers flake out or don’t show up at the last minute ALL the time. It’s up to the organization to staff a few extra people in advance. There is no signed contract. The worst that can happen is people are annoyed and OP can no longer volunteer there. You’ve said you’re sick. Just don’t show.

  31. That Girl From Quinn's House*

    I would consider this an unreasonable demand for a *paid employee.* For a volunteer, it is just utterly bonkers.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It stinks of the age old retail life of “Oh you’re sick? Too bad. Get here. Figure it out or you’re fired!”

      1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

        Which, I might add, is such a public health issue. If you have the flu, I *really* don’t want you handling my food or other purchases!

  32. CommanderBanana*

    OP, this is unreasonable and the volunteer coordinator is handling this horribly. They can’t compel you to staff this. You’re sick, the timing sucks, it is what it is.

    I volunteer with an organization that tried to pull this with us. The volunteer coordinator sent an email saying that coordinating volunteers was taking up too much of her time (?) and that from now on, we had to volunteer X number of hours per month and if we had to cancel a shift, we had to find someone to fill in.

    Except……we’re volunteers. Ultimately the responsibility of filling shifts is on the people paid to do that.

    1. Mockingjay*

      The Volunteer Coordinator decided to stop doing her job? Can I stop doing my job and still get paid?

      1. EddieSherbert*

        She could also be a volunteer though. Having a “role” in a non-profit doesn’t mean it’s a paid role!

        …that doesn’t make her move a smart move by any means, but… hey, if she’s also a volunteer, what’s anyone going to do about it?

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      “My job is taking up too much of the time that I’m pad to be here, waaaaaaaaah. Let’s try to flex on the volunteers, that’s the ticket!” Eeeeeeeh.

      Ultimately the end result is they can just walk away into the sunset and their fingers in the air. Why would you ever think to do this?!

      I get that it’s a hard job. I get that non-profits pay awfully. But really, do your job well and stay decent to the people who keep you employed [if there are no volunteers, then I guess the coordinator wouldn’t be making peanuts, she’d be making even less on unemployment]

      You don’t treat customers, volunteers, donors, coworkers, vendors, people who knock on your door looking for the DMV [projecting here, yeah that’s a thing that happens] poorly and lower your expectations of what they will and won’t do for you when there’s little to nothing else in it for them.

      1. CommanderBanana*

        It’s kind of complicated – basically, we’re a shelter that operates 24/7, except we only have paid staff during workdays/nights. Weekend hours are 100% volunteers. Any open shifts that have to get covered by staff dings the shelter budget.

        I think the idea was that she was going to be focusing more on casework than managing the volunteer schedule, but it was handled pretty badly. Their “solution” was to send out an email so poorly composed as to be almost unintelligible, but the gist was that we didn’t have enough volunteers signing up for shifts and if people weren’t taking “enough” hours, they would start calling us? Which just enraged the volunteers that were getting calls in the middle of the workday nagging them to take shifts. They also wanted people to start signing up a month in advance…which I get, but that means you’re going to get more cancellations as Life Stuff comes up.

        And, obviously, if a volunteer is taking X hours instead of the Y you want them to take, it’s still X hours more than you had at the beginning.

        So basically, they pissed off the regular volunteers and didn’t exactly cajole sporadic volunteers into stepping up.

        1. CommanderBanana*

          Oh, and, we were “now responsible for finding a replacement” if we had to cancel. Except…we don’t have an updated email contact list or cell phone contact list or anyone to find a replacement except doing a reply-all to whatever email last went to the volunteers.

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          I can really sympathize with them because they’re on a limited budget and it’s a crisis sort of place, so they are in desperate need. But sadly in this world, when there aren’t enough people who are not only kind hearted/selfless enough AND available to take on the shifts, it’s that rock and a hard place that you have to just choke down and either cut services [I cry at the idea of it but really, it’s better than alienating your entire volunteer base and ruining it even more, you know!]

          So yeah, yikes. I hope they learned from the situation. You don’t try to go militant on volunteers who have nothing but their kindness keeping them coming back.

          1. JSPA*

            Unless it’s a youth shelter (and possibly even then) these days, more than a few shelter users could pass the vetting and have the skills to be a volunteer. If the shelter has not considered this option, perhaps they should.

  33. Bulldog*

    You’re a volunteer. Stay home and don’t give it a second thought. If you feel up to exerting a minimal effort to try and find a replacement, fine. If not, I would not spend a second worrying about it. Look at it this way — if your spouse/parent/child died suddenly the day before this event, you would not go and I doubt you would even think to attempt to find a replacement. While an illness isn’t that extreme, I think it falls into the same general category. I would seriously consider severing ties with this organization.

  34. Morning reader*

    I wonder if it would be useful to visit a doctor (if it wouldn’t cost too much) to get documentation that you are (or might be) contagious. Camping includes many elements that would make it easier to spread disease. Everyone getting your “bug” by the third day would certainly ruin the event.

    Then you could say “my doctor says my flu (or whatever) is contagious and recommends I stay away from public areas for 72 hours. Thank you for understanding that I won’t be able to attend. I’m sure you will want to protect your attendees against coming down with (whatever.)”

    If you get pushback from your organization you can show that their expectations were against doctor’s orders. The phrase still carries weight in some circles.

    I would not want to camp with someone who was coughing, sneezing, vomiting, and miserable, and I would have a dim view of the organizers if I found out that they required some volunteer who told them she was sick to be there anyway. It would damage their reputation more than yours.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Yes, this.

        Also even with my good insurance, copay is $40. I’m not paying $40 to give a doctor’s note to a place I’m frigging volunteering at!

        I wouldn’t be able to get into my GP, it’s hard AF to ever get a same day and “I have these stomach bug symptoms that just showed up and need a doctor’s note” would never cut it. So that means going to Urgent Care, which takes at least 2-3 hours in most cases, even if you sign up online for an appointment.

    1. JSPA*

      this is for a situation where you have an enforceable contractual obligation. Not here. Tell them clearly that it’s not possible nor safe. If they get huffy, tell them to go pound salt.

  35. Kristine*

    And what would they say if the OP got into an accident on the way there and could not show up? Or had Strep Throat? Or had a purse stolen? A house broken into? Volunteer coordinators who know their jobs prepare for volunteers to drop out. Give them your regrets and don’t go.

  36. Sharrbe*

    This is crazy. What if the volunteer has a death in the family? “I’m sorry you are grieving and planning a funeral, but you agreed to find a replacement!” What if the volunteer is in the hospital? “I’m sorry you had a heart attack, but you agreed to find a replacment!” They need to be more flexible, despite the fact that they might have been burned in the past by volunteers who ghosted on them for trivial reasons.

  37. Bunny*

    This is insane and the only time I have heard of this kind of craziness is in like fandom conventions, I feel like it has to be one of those.

    1. JSPA*

      I was thinking SCA or RenFaire. (And better you than me.) Or “prepper skills,” or war re-enactors. But the imperiousness of the attitude plus the outdoorsy aspect makes me think something with ersatz nobility and much lip service paid to strict adherence to arbitrary rules.

  38. Great Grey Owl*

    People get sick. Life happens and sometimes people need to roll with the punches. This includes volunteer coordinators. You did nothing wrong and your first priority should always be your health. And what happens if you end to needing medical attention as a result of your illness? Since you are in the middle of nowhere, how long is it going to take for an ambulance to get there if you need it?

    I wouldn’t argue with the coordinator because you already notified this person that you weren’t able to make it. You might want to inform your business/community, to let them know that the coordinator is giving you a hard time.

  39. Samwise*

    I don’t see why the OP should have to drag themself out of the house, go to a doctor while hoping they don’t need to use a toilet while they drive (or take public transport! or uber!), and pay to see a doctor just to mollify an unreasonable and discourteous person about a *volunteer* gig.

    OP, if you need to go to the doc, do so. Otherwise, as AAM advised, notify your group, stay home near the toilet, sleep, get plenty of fluids, and do NOT feel at all bad about it.

  40. Samwise*

    I’d also let your business/community group know about the very poor treatment you’ve gotten.

  41. LGC*

    So, what organization is this so I can avoid it?

    Also, something not addressed in the letter: you could possibly get others sick, depending on what you have. And the only thing worse than you having stomach problems in the woods is YOUR ENTIRE CAMPING GROUP having stomach problems in the woods.

    Not only was the coordinator being a jerk, he’s also being very nearsighted. You have my permission to go into EXTREMELY uncomfortable detail with him, and I hope you did. (Suggested phrase: “My toilet looks like I murdered Satan in it.”)

    (I also hope you’re feeling better, LW!)

  42. Radio Girl*

    Oh, my goodness, this organization is clueless. People get sick. Things happen.
    Stay home. Let them deal with it.

  43. Coverage Associate*

    At the last big volunteer event I participated in, the person in charge made a wise choice: volunteers could be trusted for staffing booths and checking people in, etc. but the person charged with keeping the porta potties stocked with toilet paper would be paid, even though it was lower skilled work than a lot of the volunteer assignments, or maybe because it was lower skilled.

    The point is if something is really important, find it in the event budget to pay someone.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yeah its also because a lot of the “ick! ew!” jobs like stocking porta potties is something that most people will be all “LOL yeah no.” if they’re tasked with it. Whereas if you are getting paid, it’s just a job. Sanitation jobs pay a lot because it takes money to get people to deal with toilets!

      Our local radio show does a “what’s your salary” segment. And just had a guy who services porta potties on the air, he makes 70-75k [starting wages!] a year cleaning out those suckers.

  44. LW*

    Update as I wrote to Alison last week.

    After emailing Alison I ended up pushing back and basically giving more gory details of why I definitely couldn’t leave the house :) the coordinator eventually said something along the lines of ‘okay, yeah it’s best effort, if you really can’t find someone then we don’t want you dying out there!’. I posted in some relevant social media groups to try to find a replacement but had no luck (which, tbh, doesn’t surprise me – people sign up months in advance, so if no-one was interested/free months in advance I don’t think they would be the day before). I admit to not spending a bunch of time pressuring individual people – because mostly what I wanted to do was sleep.

    Some folk have wondered whether I was concerned for my career – to which the answer is not at all. The volunteering is something which is a hobby for me and my career is completely separate – which I was grateful for in this scenario! (Though also worth pointing out my actual work was totally fine with me taking time off! Which I did the day I was having this argument)

    In the end my stomach bug was mostly a 24hr thing – so I went a day late to the event and only camped one night. It wasn’t the nicest experience but it wasn’t awful (if I’d been as ill as I was on the day before, I would have just not gone I think). The other volunteers were really nice about it (the feeling generally being ‘if you’re sick, go home and screw the organisers’).

    After the event the organiser emailed us asking for feedback on the event itself, so I sent a probably fairly snotty email saying I didn’t think their policy of passing on ‘contractual obligations’ to volunteers was a good one. They explained it by saying they’ve had people drop out in the past and I was ‘happy to sign’ (as above the wording on the original sign up email was actually ‘if you decide to drop out, you are responsible for organising a replacement’ – stomach bug not exactly a decision but hey ho). I’ve said I won’t volunteer again which is probably slightly shooting myself in the foot but I can deal without that stress (and feel like complaining on behalf of the people whose careers it might actually affect is probably a good thing!)

    For what it’s worth, another volunteer also dropped out last minute due to a family bereavement – I really hope they didn’t ask her to find a replacement (!!).

    Thanks to the AAM community in general – when I was feeling particular ill/crappy and arguing with the coordinator I think the knowledge of ‘what would Alison say’ spurred me through to be like ‘no wait this isn’t reasonable and I should actually push back!’

    1. Glad it all mostly worked out!*

      I’m glad it all worked out! Just for future reference, though, many stomach viruses are contagious for 48h after symptoms subside, so another time it would probably be prudent not to be in close quarters with other people for two days after you feel better.

    2. LinesInTheSand*

      Not the OP, but I have a guess as to what’s going on here that may clear up some confusion.

      This doesn’t sound like a charity event. Nonprofit, yes, charity no. Meaning, they’re not soliciting a pool of people who want to do good. This sounds like a special interest convention in which the organizers, in an effort to keep costs down, farm out some of their staffing requirements to attendees in exchange for reduced/waived entrance fees. So in this case, they don’t have the same pool of potential volunteers to pull from because everyone who would conceivably show up is probably already there. The way the event is thinking of it, the volunteers are effectively employees that are being paid in event entrance fees instead of cash.

      I don’t agree with it, and I don’t agree with their policy of “you’re responsible for finding a sub, so help you God”, but it’s the reality of a lot of small conventions trying to bootstrap themselves into existence.

  45. Ms Cappuccino*

    I work as a volunteer coordinator and it wouldn’t cross my mind to ask volunteers to find their replacement, and even less to show up when sick. This is very bad practice!
    Do you need them? If not, there are plenty of good organisations out there who won’t take advantage of your kindness.
    Also if you can, leave a review on Glassdoor.

  46. LinesInTheSand*

    ::sigh:: I didn’t mean to nest this in a reply. Reposting.

    Not the OP, but I have a guess as to what’s going on here that may clear up some confusion.

    This doesn’t sound like a charity event. Nonprofit, yes, charity no. Meaning, they’re not soliciting a pool of people who want to do good. This sounds like a special interest convention in which the organizers, in an effort to keep costs down, farm out some of their staffing requirements to attendees in exchange for reduced/waived entrance fees. So in this case, they don’t have the same pool of potential volunteers to pull from because everyone who would conceivably show up is probably already there. The way the event is thinking of it, the volunteers are effectively employees that are being paid in event entrance fees instead of cash.

    I don’t agree with it, and I don’t agree with their policy of “you’re responsible for finding a sub, so help you God”, but it’s the reality of a lot of small conventions trying to bootstrap themselves into existence.

    1. LW*

      Neither the event nor the organisation I was volunteering with are non-profit, but this is probably accurate:

      ‘the volunteers are effectively employees that are being paid in event entrance fees rather than cash’

      There is a pretty large pool of volunteers in general, but this event is one of the less popular ones, so I’m not surprised no-one wanted to drop their weekend plans to go.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        They’re not even a f’ing non-profit?

        These people are crooks and dodging taxes. Please don’t “volunteer” for anywhere that’s not a certified non-profit, they’re breaking the law and have no morals.

        1. JSPA*

          Could be “for profit” or “not for profit” but could also be a club, breaking even on the event. If everyone putting on the event is a volunteer, and they’re not making a profit above outlay (that is, if they’re charging attendees the same “per person” fee for the site they’re using, that they’re being charged) I think (?) they’re not necessarily breaking the law.

          1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

            I am not going to speculate on what this particular event is, but races (running, biking, etc.) typically solicit volunteers from the “community” (that is, those of us who run, bike, etc., and our family and close friends), and this is a pretty common and accepted practice – the presence of volunteers keeps entrance fees down for everyone, so those of us who frequent these types of events will typically volunteer on occasion as well as a way to “give back.”

            Now, if she was a participant in what it was in addition to a volunteer, then it seems highly unlikely it was any kind of race event, but just chiming in that there are scenarios where volunteers may be used for things that are not not-for-profit.

      2. LilySparrow*

        If they’re not a nonprofit, the whole arrangement is probably illegal.

        There’s a post in the archives somewhere about “volunteering” at a dance or yoga studio in exchange for free classes. Violation of the law.

        When people work for a business, they must be paid in money, and it must be reported for tax purposes.

        I assume this place isn’t issuing 1099s for the value of the free ticket.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          You don’t have to issue a 1099 if it’s under $600 [with exceptions for rent, lawyers, royalties and a few other specifics]. So unless they’re volunteering multiple events that would add up to that amount, it wouldn’t be necessary and wouldn’t pop them.

          Still, illegal AF to trade labor for services/items thought, that’s for sure! But just an FYI on the 1099.

      3. MommyMD*

        So is this your employer? That’s then not volunteering. But it also puts you at risk of management ire. However if employer’s need employees to STAFF EVENTS, they need to pay them. Not some BS entry ticket.

        1. LinesInTheSand*

          That’s not what LW is saying. LW doesn’t work for the company putting on the event. She was trying to clarify that this isn’t charity volunteering, this is volunteering as a way to get discounted/free entry to a desirable event. And in that context, the event company may feel they have more need and/or leverage to make stringent requirements around volunteering.

          1. LW*

            Correct. There are two, for profit companies involved:
            1) the one running the event
            2) the one providing particular type of staff for the event

            I don’t work for either, the volunteering was through #2 and the ‘contract’ was between the two companies where #2 promises to send x people to the event in exchange for x free tickets (and possibly also some nominal amount of money – I’ve no idea because I’ve not read the contract). It was #2 being shitty about it (when I arrived a day late at the event I doubt company #1 noticed or cared as long as the work got done – but they clearly would have noticed if say, half the number of agreed people showed up).

            As I mentioned elsewhere on thread, I’ve also previously volunteered at similar events (different type of work) where the volunteers were provided by a charity and again the ‘payment’ is the free event ticket. That had longer and more onerous shifts so going through the business #2 above is in general a much better deal for the volunteer! (Though the group is smaller hence this concern about drop outs. Through the charity the deal was basically, if you don’t show you lose the free ticket and they had more than enough people to even out the cover).

            1. NoLongerStuckInRetailHell*

              LW I don’t think that’s legal. A for-profit business cannot accept volunteers. It came up before on here where someone wanted to volunteer her time to a friend’s struggling business. I think it would be like when hourly employees work off the clock, voluntarily or not, it was a huge wage-hour violation. Two for-profit companies making deals between them to use volunteers to staff for-profit events seems really wrong.

  47. Yup*

    Unfortunately, I’ve come across policies like the OP’s at certain jobs/companies/managers. I have a feeling they they came up with it because too many people are flaky without a legitimate excuse. Someone on my team legitimately dropped a small household appliance on her foot the same day she was supposed to work. Nobody else on the team was available. She ended up hobbling around and working or risk termination. Granted, the shift was only a few hours but still.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      FML, I’m so glad that I live in a region that has strict sick leave laws, this is not allowed here. I say I’m sick, you leave me the ef alone and unless it’s more than 3 days, LOL ef your doctor’s notes as well. I pray that one day this entire darn country adapts to these standards instead of just us weirdos with our strong pro-employee laws.

  48. LilySparrow*

    I’m so confused by this. If the tradeoff for volunteering is a free ticket to the event, then by missing the event, you’re not using the ticket. So what’s the problem? You’re even, right?

    Or if it means that you volunteering earns a free ticket for someone else in the business group, why can’t they take your shift, since they’ll be there anyway?

    The whole thing seems bass-ackwards. You can’t tell volunteers they “have” to show up. Have to = or else. You start “or-elsing” your volunteer base, you won’t have one for long.

    1. LW*

      Yes, I’m not sure. This is what made me wonder if the business is actually earning money out of the contract and just not paying the people who staff the events? The event tickets *are* expensive and I’ve previously done much longer, less fun shifts at similar events for a free ticket – though there the organisation I was directly working for *was* a charity. So compared to that, it is a ‘good deal’ for volunteers. And if no-one showed up to staff the event, the business I was representing would not be asked back, so they obviously have incentive to make sure people do show up. I guess they get away with it in general because the events are ones that their volunteers *want* to attend. (Though to be honest I would never pay full price for this particular event – as mentioned it’s one of the ‘less popular’ ones which definitely affected how hard it was to find coverage.)

  49. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

    If volunteers start taking that “you will have to find your own replacement if you get sick” seriously, the event will get fewer volunteers. Especially since this is a recreational thing (rather than, say, working for a Bloodmobile): the realistic pool of volunteers is “people who are interested in this activity, have the weekend free, and don’t mind spending part of it taking tickets or cooking breakfast or doing other boring but necessary things.”

    So, the only people you can realistically get to fill in for you are your friends who do the same activity. That plus the all-weekend thing means rules out a bunch of people–relatives, friends, or neighbors who might be available for emergency childcare, or to drive you to the doctor’s office, or shovel your walk if your back has gone out. It also rules out your buddy who also spends weekends LARPing, but is doing this partly as a way to spend time with his kids.

    Requiring everyone to find their own backup means that of three friends who were going to volunteer, one won’t sign up because she’s needed as understudy for the other two.

    “Hey, Gollux, can you take a shift at the Registration desk?” is a more reasonable last-minute request than “hey, Gollux, I need someone to run Registration because I’m home sick.”

    1. LW*

      Yea – with the caveat that while the event is fun/desirable I’m pretty sure none of the volunteers would have gone at full price (and for some of the similar events where I would choose to go at full price, I probably wouldn’t choose to work any of it, because the ticket is a lot!)

  50. Essess*

    The volunteer coordinator must have a boss. I’d contact the boss and let them know that the coordinator is ordering someone with a potentially contagious bug to work the event and expose the attendees.

  51. staceyizme*

    You have to be decisive and insistent in cases like this. Your goal is not to placate unreasonable people. It’s to communicate with clarity and finality that disaster has struck and that you’ve contracted an illness that renders you unable to attend. You can add that you cannot risk making others I’ll, either. Then consider the matter closed. No dithering or wondering about who is being reasonable. The event will survive.

  52. just trying to help*

    I am very active in volunteer and charitable organizations as a volunteer. I work very closely with the volunteer coordinators and know from time spent as a surrogate coordinator at moments that these things happen. The organization has to make do with what they have at the moment, and realize that volunteers come and go sometimes without notice. This is the nature of volunteerism. Allison is right – they are being overly rigid.
    If you know other volunteers and can reach out to them, please do so – they might know of someone who can take your place. I hope you feel better.

  53. Lol no*

    Bold of them to think they have that kind of claim on your time when you’re not being paid.

  54. JBTX*

    I have a different take on this than most of you and feel OP should be doing more to fulfill the obligation – primarily by finding a sub. This is not an emergency room visit or car accident or even day of. It should be possible to make a few calls. Maybe she really can’t find someone (and, no, she shouldn’t be made to go while sick). But serious effort should be made.

    But the real lack is there were no plans in place for a backup. This was not simply an individual volunteer but a GROUP slot filled by one person. All involved agreed a volunteer would be provided no matter what. If not OP, then someone else from the group.

    Frankly, as one who coordinates many events – the fact it was an organizational commitment makes a huge difference.
    If the condition is that your group provides a volunteer no matter what, and you agree to that condition, have a contingency plan in place.

  55. NoLongerStuckInRetailHell*

    I have been a die-hard volunteer for multiple organizations and events for decades and I have never encountered anything as ridiculous as this. 1. I have never been required to find my own replacement 2. The only requirement regarding a missed shift was to call them prior to the check-in time for the shift (and even then if there were extenuating circumstances like getting in a car accident and not being able to call they were reasonable) rather than just being a no-show 3. The only consequence to being a no-show was to be dropped from the program—they can’t do anything else to you.

  56. NoLongerStuckInRetailHell*

    Even at a paid job you are allowed to call in sick and not have to find your own replacement! Granted there is sometimes a benefit to finding someone to cover for you, such as not having the absence count against you, but they can’t MAKE you (if they fire you for calling in sick they are probably doing you a favor). But you, as an individual have no power or standing to compel another human to take your place, whether at work or as a volunteer. THAT is the job of your manager or the volunteer coordinator (and as I have been both I understood that when I took it on).

  57. WantonSeedStitch*

    Stomach bugs while camping are one of the most vile experiences ever. They DO NOT WANT you spreading this around a campground. Sheesh.

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