Explain the legal and ethical obligations of community service organizations and their staff in relation to identifying conflicts of interest.
Community Service Organizations (CSOs) are covered under federal law, which preempts (i.e., carries more legal weight than) state and local laws and provides explicit language on the conduct and responsibilities of CSOs both to their staffs and to those whom they purport to serve. There has been a series of conflict of interest laws passed over the past 20 years, but The Volunteer Protection Act of 1997 (Public Law 105-19) is of particular interest to anyone studying this issue. Specifically, Section 4 of this Act, titled "Limitation on Liability for Volunteers," provides volunteers and others working for CSOs with protections in the case of potential conflicts of interest as long as the individual in question is acting in the best interests of the patient or other citizen in his or her care:
(a) Liability Protection for Volunteers.—Except as provided in
subsections (b) and (d), no volunteer of a nonprofit organization or governmental entity shall be liable for harm caused by an act or
omission of the volunteer on behalf of the organization or entity if—
(1) the volunteer was acting within the scope of the volunteer's responsibilities in the nonprofit organization or governmental entity at the time of the act or omission;
(2) if appropriate or required, the volunteer was properly licensed, certified, or authorized by the appropriate authorities for the activities or practice in the State in which
the harm occurred, where the activities were or practice was undertaken within the scope of the volunteer's responsibilities in the nonprofit organization or governmental entity;
(3) the harm was not caused by willful or criminal misconduct, gross negligence, reckless misconduct, or a conscious, flagrant indifference to the rights or safety of the
individual harmed by the volunteer; . . .
(b) Concerning Responsibility of Volunteers to Organizations and Entities.--Nothing in this section shall be construed to affect any civil action brought by any nonprofit organization or any governmental entity against any volunteer of such organization or entity.
(c) No Effect on Liability of Organization or Entity.—Nothing in this section shall be construed to affect the liability of any nonprofit organization or governmental entity with respect to harm caused to any person.
These provisions from the federal statute addressing CSOs do not explicitly state "conflicts of interest," and there is no scenario spelled out in the student's question. Suffice to say that the intent of the law is to indemnify volunteers from liability in the event they act contrary to the instructions specified by the CSO in question, as long as they are acting in the best interest of the individual(s) in their charge. By the same token, however, the CSO is not held liable for the actions of the volunteer if the latter acts contrary to the organization's written instructions or codes of ethics and responsibility.
Virtually every organization, whether for profit or non-profit, is guided by a code of ethics proscribing certain actions, including with respect to patient confidentiality and conflicts of interest. CSOs, because of the nature of their work, are no exception. Staff of such organizations are fully expected to act in the best interest of the client, and that certainly includes areas where there may be a conflict of interest, such as when an officer of the CSO has a relationship with a business that would profit from utilization of that business's product or service, irrespective of whether that product or service is appropriate.