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by Ciara Truglia | March 10, 2009

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Want an employee benefit that benefits the community as well? Consider paid community service leave. In 2002 25% of all Americans volunteered their time to a community service organization, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service, a government agency that provides volunteers with information about volunteer opportunities. Nearly 2% of these volunteers were referred to the volunteer organization by their employers. We may see this number go up in the future, as the practice of paying employees for time spent participating in community service increases in popularity.

Among those employers who grant paid time off for approved community service activities are the states of North Carolina, Virginia and Indiana, along with over 30 federal agencies. Private sector employers from MBNA to The Walt Disney Company offer paid time off as well. J.M. Smucker provides its employees unlimited paid time off for volunteering. The credit card issuer MBNA not only provides up to 80 hours a year paid time off to its employees, it donates money directly to the organization the employee is volunteering with. Citigroup and The Walt Disney company also award grants to eligible non-profits that their employees volunteer with. Timberland offers a paid service sabbatical to its employees, a three- to six-month assignment with a nonprofit organization. Small organizations are beginning to follow suit. The Maryland-based Association for International Practical Training recently instated a community service leave policy, allowing employees six paid days per year for volunteerism.

In many programs there is a time limit on volunteerism and employees must provide signed verification of their community service activity in order to receive pay for their time off. Some corporations, such as Comcast Cable Communications, Timberland and the Marriott International hotel chain, set aside specific days of volunteerism that all employees participate in.

Why community service leave? Obviously it would be desirable if more than a quarter of our population engaged in volunteering, but is it the responsibility of employers to actually pay their employees for it? It is according to President Bush's Businesses Strengthening America program. BSA is a three-year campaign for service that encourages corporations to support community service through a wide array of methods. These include providing employees with volunteer opportunities, as well as getting consumers involved through promotional efforts. In June 2002, 18 executives from some of the nation's most prominent corporations met at the White House to demonstrate their commitment to this program. Policies promoting volunteerism were instituted at the participating corporations that did not already have community service programs and enhanced at those that did.

Although the issue of civic duty is debatable, it is clear that those employers who do choose to offer paid community service leave help give to needy causes. According to BSA they also help themselves. BSA sees community service efforts promoted by corporations as increasing employee productivity in addition to employee, consumer and shareholder loyalty. Why and how it may have these results is not made clear. Perhaps community service leave is an attractive piece of the benefits package. Employees may appreciate the extra time to fit community service into their busy schedules. Consumers and shareholders may regain some faith in the ethics of American business that has been eroded by corporate scandals such as the Enron debacle. Whatever the reason, it appears that more and more organizations are offering paid community service leave. Whether this is a trend perhaps related to the tragedy of 9/11 and the current state of the economy or a new benefit staple remains to be seen.

Ciara Trugila is an intern at The HR Team, Inc. www.thehrteam.com. She will be graduating from SUNY Geneseo in the spring. She can be reached at emailciara@yahoo.com.

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Filed Under: Workplace Issues

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