Policy on Unpaid Volunteers, Interns and Visiting Scholars


University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Policy on Unpaid Volunteers, Interns and Visiting Scholars



This policy outlines specific procedures and requirements that govern individuals who will serve in these capacities including:

  • to whom this policy is applicable,
  • guidelines on what these individuals may or may not do in the course of their assignment,
  • a process by which these unpaid assignments must be requested and approved through the Office of Human Resources (OHR), and
  • a requirement for background checks for unpaid assignments which are in excess of ten (10) calendar days in duration and/or which involve unsupervised access to sensitive populations or sensitive facilities.


This policy applies to all unpaid volunteers, interns, and unpaid visiting scholars as defined in this policy.


Policy Statement

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill ("UNC-Chapel Hill" or "University") recognizes the significant benefits that derive from the use of unpaid volunteers, interns, and visiting scholars in support of the University's mission of teaching, research, and public service as well as the importance of safely and appropriately engaging these individuals.


Generally, no individual engaged under the provisions of this policy will be under 16 years of age and any individual who has not yet attained 18 years of age must receive parental permission to participate in the specific University activity or experience proposed. In situations where a Department Head can demonstrate that specific educational and/or community service interests of the University are served and also that no unacceptable risks are present, exceptions may be considered for individuals less than 16 years of age to serve in a volunteer capacity. The latter circumstances are subject to specific approval by the Vice Chancellor for Human Resources or their designee in consultation with the relevant University offices.

An unpaid volunteer, intern, or visiting scholar may not:

  • Be engaged and/or directly supervised by a relative or other individual who would be considered inappropriate under the University's policy on nepotism.
  • Receive compensation except as expressly permitted in this policy nor be eligible to receive employment-related benefits available to regular employees such as workers' compensation, health benefits, or the ability to file for unemployment compensation.
  • Be offered any future promise of University employment that is contrary to the University's or State's equal employment opportunity or employment policies.
  • Be coerced or pressured to perform their duties in any fashion.
  • Perform unpaid work if the individual is otherwise employed by the University in any capacity to perform the same or similar type of duties and responsibilities.
  • Operate State-owned motor vehicles, boats, aircraft, or other heavy equipment unless specific exceptions have been requested and approved by the appropriate University office and are not contrary to State fleet management or University risk management policies.

Request and Approval Procedures

Any proposed engagement of an unpaid volunteer, intern, or visiting scholar must have the advance approval of the sponsoring Department and OHR using the Unpaid Volunteer, Intern and Visiting Scholar Form found on the HR eForms tile via the Self-Service page in ConnectCarolina under “Department Initiated eForms,” or under the “Forms” folder in the HR Workcenter in ConnectCarolina.

  • A fully completed background check must be completed prior to submission of the Request Form noted above. The normal criminal convictions checking fees are the responsibility of the appointing department. In those instances when a volunteer, intern, or visiting scholar has no Social Security Number due to citizenship status, OHR will make a good faith effort, based on name alone, to confirm that no residential history or criminal convictions have been recorded for this individual.
    • Note: The background check requirement is automatically waived for any individual younger than 18 years of age. Background checks are also not required for UNC-Chapel Hill student volunteer with the provisos listed in "Exclusions" below. See Background Check FAQs for more information.
  • Depending on the location, potential environmental exposures and the type of activities performed by the volunteer, intern, or visiting scholar, OHR may also require review by the Office of University Counsel and/or the Department of Environment, Health and Safety (EHS). For further guidance on laboratory safety issues related to these types of appointments, refer to the EHS Laboratory Safety web site or contact EHS directly for assistance.
  • If the proposed volunteer, intern, or visiting scholar arrangement satisfies all of the requirements of this policy and the background check results are acceptable, then OHR will grant approval for the proposed arrangement to the requesting department in writing or by electronic mail.
  • Any approved volunteer, intern, or visiting scholar must fully complete and sign a Release of Liability Form prior to starting their assignment. For volunteers and unpaid interns, the Release for Unpaid Interns and Volunteers Form should be used; for unpaid visiting scholars, the Release for Unpaid Visiting Scholars Form should be used. The requesting department should fill out the top section of the release, making sure that the description of the activity performed matches that provided on the Unpaid Volunteer, Intern and Visiting Scholar Request Form. The signed release must be maintained on file in the appointing department for no less than three (3) years following completion of the volunteer, intern, or visiting scholar arrangement and subject to audit by OHR on request.

Expense Reimbursement & Other Benefits

Individuals may be reimbursed for their expenses in carrying out their assigned duties in accord with applicable University accounting policies and federal non-immigrant visa regulations. Such expenses must be authorized in advance by their Department supervisor. They may also be provided nominal benefits related to their activities such as admission to a University event or other incidental gifts in recognition of their unpaid service, unless an individual is in a non-immigrant visa status which restricts such benefits.


The following circumstances are excluded from the provisions of this policy as noted:

  • Students currently enrolled at UNC-Chapel Hill, if the volunteer or intern assignment does not involve any unsupervised access to sensitive populations or sensitive facilities and the individual is not otherwise a non-student employee of the University. A Volunteer Request Form must still be completed, but a background check is not needed if the unpaid activity otherwise conforms to the above provisions. As indicated above in Request and Approval Procedures, a Release for Unpaid Interns and Volunteers Form must be filled out.
  • Individuals who will perform volunteer services not to exceed ten (10) calendar days in duration without any continuing volunteer relationship, if the assignment does not involve any unsupervised access to sensitive populations or sensitive facilities and if the individual is not otherwise an employee of the University.
    • Note: This exclusion includes individuals who are invited to deliver a talk or presentation at the University without pay or only for nominal benefits related to their services.
  • Interns or visiting scholars who will be compensated by the University for their services. Such individuals are engaged as temporary employees under the applicable employment procedures for SHRA or EHRA employees.
  • Unpaid adjunct faculty whose appointment and the requirement for a pre-appointment background check are covered separately by procedures established by Office of Faculty Affairs.
  • An individual from outside of the University community who is appointed to a Board of Visitors or other University advisory body by authority of the Chancellor, the Provost, a Vice Chancellor, or a Dean.
  • An individual who is under the age of 18 (a minor), or who is still in high school. A Volunteer Request Form must still be completed, but a background check is not performed.

The Vice Chancellor for Human Resources or their designee may approve other exclusions to this policy in whole or part which are deemed to be in the University's best interests and/or to address essential circumstances when no unreasonable risks are identified after consultation with the appropriate University offices. Departments that will engage volunteers or interns who are otherwise excluded from this policy as noted above, but where the individuals will serve in laboratory settings must still ensure that all University safety requirements are met in accord with policies set forth by EHS.


  • Volunteers: Individuals who offer their services without cost to the University for civic reasons and which are not typically performed by permanent University employees. Examples include serving as a docent at a University museum or educational facility, serving as an usher at a University special event, or otherwise performing duties that are of benefit to the University's teaching, research, and/or public service mission.
  • Unpaid Interns: Individuals who meet one of the following circumstances:
    • Are currently enrolled at UNC-Chapel Hill or other accredited colleges, universities, community colleges, or high schools and who are engaged in experiential learning in the workplace in return for academic or course credit.
    • Are obtaining work experience that is required for professional licensure or certification under the supervision of a licensed or certified professional (e.g., Social Workers, Engineers, Nurses, and Accountants) for a period not to exceed 18 months in duration.
    • Are engaging in experiential learning in a profession under the supervision of an appropriate University supervisor or manager for a period not to exceed 18 months in duration.
  • Unpaid Visiting Scholars: Individuals who hold appointments at other academic or research institutions and are visiting to work with a particular faculty member or principal investigator on a research project but do not receive a paid appointment at UNC-Chapel Hill.
  • Sensitive populations: Individuals under 18 years of age, patients receiving care in any clinical setting, or other individuals deemed to require enhanced supervision or protection based on University practice or State or Federal law.
  • Sensitive facilities: University facilities that require special clearance or background checks for access or that permit unsupervised access to records that are confidential or otherwise have special protections under State or Federal law.

Contact Information

Policy Contact

Unit: Employment and Staffing

Email: employment@unc.edu

Phone: 919-843-2300

Address: Office of Human Resources, 104 Airport Drive, CB: 1045, Chapel Hill, NC 27599


Article ID: 131799
Thu 4/8/21 9:17 PM
Tue 4/9/24 2:10 PM
Effective Date
If the date on which this document became/becomes enforceable differs from the Origination or Last Revision, this attribute reflects the date on which it is/was enforcable.
05/01/2011 12:00 AM
Issuing Officer
Name of the document Issuing Officer. This is the individual whose organizational authority covers the policy scope and who is primarily responsible for the policy.
Issuing Officer Title
Title of the person who is primarily responsible for issuing this policy.
Associate Vice Chancellor, Human Resources
Last Review
Date on which the most recent document review was completed.
03/08/2024 12:00 AM
Last Revised
Date on which the most recent changes to this document were approved.
05/01/2011 12:00 AM
Next Review
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03/08/2026 12:00 AM
Date on which the original version of this document was first made official.
05/01/2011 12:00 AM
Responsible Unit
School, Department, or other organizational unit issuing this document.
Office of Human Resources