Would You Volunteer For An Organization That Makes You Sign Away Your Right To Ever Say Anything Negative About It?

from the what-are-they-hiding? dept

Paul Alan Levy alerts us to the news that Save-A-Pet is making volunteers sign an extremely overbroad form, forbidding them from saying pretty much anything negative about the organization or anyone associated with it:

According to the form, a recent policy change requires volunteers to sign a form giving up their right to post ?any comment or picture? about an ?employee, volunteer or client? of Save-A-Pet without their consent.  Volunteers must also agree not to post any ?negative comments or pictures involving any . . . resident,? nor post any comment that ?could be construed as harassment of the public, volunteers or staff,? nor use the Save-a-Pet logo or “organizational material? except on ?approved Save-A-Pet flyers.”  Volunteers who have questions about whether information is ?confidential,? or whether any posting is otherwise ?appropriate,? are directed to ask the chief administrator for guidance.

As Levy notes in his post, a private organization can make you sign something that gives up your First Amendment rights, but there are some limitations. The bigger concern is just how extensive, broad and ambiguous the limitations are. For example:

The vague language about postings that “could be construed as harassment” is also disturbing. In the course of my practice, I have often seen complaints (and threats of litigation) from companies or political figures who treat mere criticism as harassment. Even the term “harassment” can be dangerously vague. Forbidding speech simply because of how it “could be construed” sweeps far too broadly. And companies often misuse the fact that all of its information is otherwise “confidential” to claim that any criticism that includes such inside information is improper.

Similarly, a posting that is accompanied by a group?s logo, or which reproduces the text of a memo from an organization?s director, is likely to be protected as fair use rather than infringement of entity?s trademark or copyright, to the extent that they are being used to illustrate or demonstrate the points being discussed (as, for example, I have done in this blog post). Yet again Save-A-Pet?s broad form prohibits such innocent uses.

While Levy notes that it appears Save-A-Pet is probably responding to a specific event and is also using a form that it appears to have copied from elsewhere, you really have to wonder if the “cost” of such a form is worth it. It’s so aggressive and broad that it’s clearly scaring off some potential volunteers (such as the one who sent the form to Levy). But are people saying negative things on Twitter about the organization really such a problem that it outweighs the cost of people being unwilling to volunteer? It seems likely that the cost of such a form greatly outweighs the benefit.

It seems likely that whoever decided to use the form simply never considered the negative consequences of offering such a form. Because, really, all it does is scream out that the organization is really sensitive about any form of criticism — and makes you wonder if, perhaps, that’s because it deserves some.

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Companies: save-a-pet

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Comments on “Would You Volunteer For An Organization That Makes You Sign Away Your Right To Ever Say Anything Negative About It?”

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That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Power = brain damage.

We see these silly things time and time again, and it is unavoidable. When you give someone power, it destroys their mind.

Save-A-Pet has now handed any of their detractors a huge mountain of support. If it wasn’t true why would they react like this. While they might be doing something wrong, I have no idea, they might have just annoyed someone with a bone to pick.

Rather than just deal with the issue in an open way they clamp down on everything and make the problem worse… where have I seen this before… its on the tip of my tongue… A…A… Can’t think of it right now, but I am sure it will come to me.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Oh my…. from their website…

“Dumping animals after hours is against the law and punishable by fine and/or imprisonment. Animals dumped on Save-A-Pet grounds will be turned over to Lake County Animal Control”

“Save-A-Pet constantly works toward a realization of our no-kill mission where no animal is turned away or euthanized (by others) due to lack of space or funding such that we can treat them, heal them and prepare them for adoption. To accomplish this, we also have to educate the community about animal welfare, animal health care, and encourage owners to have their cats and dogs spayed or neutered to lessen the number of homeless pets.”

Unless you DARE bring your animal to us after hours, then we turn them away and then we send them off to a kill shelter you heartless bastard!

Maybe some of their problems have to do with a Charity Navigator Rating of only 2 stars.

The info looks a little out of date, but when your trying to keep people from talking it only makes us look closer.

cjstg (profile) says:

Re: free market

choosing a non-profit to contribute to or volunteer for is just like deciding which car to buy. it’s all about free market economics. if you don’t their policies and procedures, then don’t associate with them. otherwise, suck it in and get to work or get our your checkbook. if they piss off enough people then they get no support, they go away, and another group takes the same resources.

Lord Binky says:

You wouldn't believe...

You guys, I’ve volunteered for them before. And all I want to say is that I will ______ take the chance to volunteer for them again. It was such a ______ environment and all the people were _______ from the moment I signed up. The people know so ______ about the pets they care for. That was one of the ______ experiences of my life.


Now did I say something good or bad save-a-pet…. You will never know, but I have an idea where this would skew towards.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Except for every example in the world where moving to be more restrictive is the improper response.

If a charity, you should be able to happily open up the doors have have everyone take a look. You should not have anything to hide, because that negatively effects your ability to raise funds and carry on your good works.

If they were hurt in the past, then there is a good chance there was something not so good going on. Otherwise they would have been able to dispel any issues quickly with facts.

Putting out this demand is firing up the Streisand Effect, people will wonder even more what are they trying so damn hard to hide. And if they try even harder to lock it down, people will look for alternate places to give their time and money that are more open.

E. Zachary Knight (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Response to: Anonymous Coward on Aug 22nd, 2011 @ 5:49am

Its one of those, “No one should be forced to air their dirty laundry” kind of things.

This organization has a right to privacy just as any organization or person. However, that does not mean that they have a right to be free of criticism.

If this organization truly wanted to fight criticism, they would make policies that clean up any potential trouble spots. Instead, they have created a large sign that reads to a good number of people, “We aren’t as good as you think we are.”

AJ says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Response to: Anonymous Coward on Aug 22nd, 2011 @ 5:49am

I guess my point was that if you are a charity organization, your focus should probably be on providing charity, not doing things that would require “hiding”.

IMHO The very act of trying to “hide” anything as a charity organization just seems a bit odd to me. I would think you would want to be ultra transparent so as to never draw suspicion of impropriety to your organization or to your cause.

E. Zachary Knight (profile) says:

This doesn't work for dentists or doctors, but this is different.

This reminds me of those earlier stories of Dentists and Doctors having their patients sign those waiver forms that prevent them from posting negative reviews on sites like Yelp. Just as those forms don’t prevent anyone from posting negative reviews even if they signed them, neither will this prevent negative posts and reviews.

On top of the ineffectiveness of these forms, just as it says above, this will prevent a lot of people from volunteering who would otherwise. It raises questions in the minds of potential volunteers over whether this charity has anything to hide.

I know I wouldn’t volunteer.

Anonymous Coward says:

I don't think you're signing away your rights...

Punishment is listed as termination of volunteer status. They could do that anyway if they just didn’t like you. It says you “could be sued” at one point, but that doesn’t do anything – it’s just stating that someone COULD attempt to sue. All you’re really signing is a statement that you read and understand the policies.

So, despite the headline, you aren’t volunteering “For An Organization That Makes You Sign Away Your Right To Ever Say Anything Negative About It”.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: I don't think you're signing away your rights...

So they are trying to bully people, with a BS claim of we will sue, into not saying anything they can try to twist to meet the terms of you agreeing to let them.

You can terminate a volunteer without a legal document.

They are trying to make every piece of paper they publish a secret that must not be shown to anyone outside.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: I don't think you're signing away your rights...

was waiting for someone to use the correct word – libelous.

The real issue is that libel and slander are illegal. You can’t just make stuff up about a person or a group. This agreement that they are making people sign is ridiculous and unnecessary because there are already laws to deal with persons and groups who make slanderous and libelous claims against others. So you can’t sign away those rights, because you don’t have the right to make libelous and slanderous claims. You do have the right to free speech and if what you post or say about this group or any other for that matter is true and you can back it up with fact – signing this agreement (or not) is a moot point. Free speech to speak the truth cannot be infringed upon.

Badger (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 I don't think you're signing away your rights...

Correct – libel and slander are illegal.

But if you look at their policy document people are not signing away their rights:

“we encourage volunteers to use social media within the following guidelines” and people sign to say that “I have read and understand the guidelines…”

dwg says:

Re: Re: Re:2 I don't think you're signing away your rights...

Actually, anti-disparagement clauses are often found enforceable. The part that makes me giggle, however, is the “nor post any comment that ‘could be construed as harassment of the public’.” So, wait: Save-a-Pet is saying that I can’t post anything negative about…anyone, anywhere, for any reason, if that person feels it’s harassing. Go Save-a-Pet! Thanks for protecting me against anyone who would speak ill of me!

Overcast (profile) says:

Just the fact they WANT people to do this makes me suspect of their motives right off the bat.

I don’t normally donate to the ‘save a pet’ things, because other ‘organizations’ that supposedly ‘save pets’ have put a REAL foul taste in my mouth for donating to these types, but even if I were inclined to donate – it wouldn’t be to a company that forces it’s volunteers to sign a form like that, lol.

Mostly these organizations are political and don’t really care much about pets; this only further gives that impression.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

But 99.9% of the time, your boss is NOT a retard. Despite what you think of him/her. Thus you cannot legal slander them in that way. If your boss is actually retarded, then you didn’t slander them and your speech – albeit rude and uncalled for – is protected under the constitution.

By the way, the constitution applies in public and private matters. It is the basis of all of our laws. It is really sad that many people think as you do these days. Perhaps that is why this country is falling so far by the wayside. Because current citizens have forgotten that the documents and ideologies that our nation was founded on have real meaning and should be applied in all things. Case in point is our President who seems to thing that we should alter our Constitution or do away with it. This thinking is destroying our nation from within.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“By the way, the constitution applies in public and private matters.”

When the Constitution says “Congress shall make no law”, that applies to Congress, and not necessarily to everyone else. (Just like when it says that members of Congress have to be at least 25 – that doesn’t mean that everyone in college is breaking the law by being younger. The public is not Congress.)

Chris Rhodes (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

By the way, the constitution applies in public and private matters.

No it doesn’t. It may apply in the courts (including civil courts), but we’re still talking about government there. There are consequences for speech. If you say mean things about me, perhaps I won’t be your friend anymore. If I invite you to my home and you shout obscenities at my children, perhaps I’ll ask you to leave. Scream about “free speech” all you want in those cases, but it doesn’t make a lick of difference. Free speech does not require me to be your friend, or require me to let you tell at my children.

And it also doesn’t apply in cases of private contract. If you sign a contract that says I’ll pay you now if you won’t say mean things about me later, you still have to hold up your end of the bargain or be in breach of contract. “Free speech” has nothing to do with it.

Beyond free speech, you may have a right to own and carry a gun (a right that I strongly support, by the by), but that doesn’t mean you can take your gun on someone else’s property if they don’t want you to.

The constitution ties the hands of government, not the hands of the citizenry.

BadgerW (profile) says:

OTT reporting?

From the information given, it doesn’t appear that S-A-P are trying to prevent criticism of the organisation itself: just trying to get people to present a professional view when they talk about each other and their clients.

So it would be OK to say that you didn’t agree with the policy of not accepting pets outside of working hours but unacceptable to say that Joe Bloggs isn’t fit to look after a dog.

Sounds reasonable to me.

AR (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: OTT reporting?

From the document:

“Save-A-Pet recognizes that many of its volunteers use social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, You Tube,
MySpace, to name a few. However, volunteers? use of social media could become a problem if it:
“? Is used to harass or discriminate against employees, volunteers, or our clients
? Divulges confidential information about Save-A-Pet , Save-A-Pet?s residents, or our clients; or
? Harms the goodwill or reputation of Save-A-Pet”

Point two about divulging makes it pretty clear. Violation is a probem. The solution as stated near the end is as follows:

? All postings on social media must comply with Save-A-Pet?s policies on confidentiality and disclosure of
proprietary information. If you are unsure about the confidential nature of information you are considering
posting, consult the Office and Operations Administrator.” ‘

“? Don?t forget that you are responsible for what you write or present on social media. You can be sued by
employees, volunteers, or any individual that views your social media posts as defamatory, harassing, or

Put points 2 & 3 together of the first part and then add the last part, I read it as; to say anything about this organization, its people, animals, or customers and you can be sued. Its only libel or slander if you cant prove it in court. With everything being confidential, you wont get that access.

AR (profile) says:

Duck and cover

If it walks like a duck… If they are forcing volunteers to sign non-disclosure agreements… Then they more than likely have something that needs to be disclosed. In a time where you have one “rescue” shutting down another “rescue” for abuses, this really makes you stop and think. I can post news links if really needed. Instead of hiding behind there 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status (which are rarely audited) and non-disclosure agreements, they should have a totally open establishment in order to show the good they are claiming. Including their financial records.
Volunteer for them? NO.
Notify the authorities? Quite possibly

RobShaver (profile) says:

How can ...

“a private organization can make you sign something”?

Did they threaten to kill a puppy unless you signed?

No. What happened is they agreed to sign. In 30 years as an engineer I’ve never signed any kind of non-compete agreement, although I’ve been asked. Most of the time they are buried in the boiler plate. I just line through that section, put my initials next to the strike-out and ask the company rep to initial also. They all agreed … eventually.

The simple answer is don’t agree to terms you don’t want to agree to. If no one would sign then the clause would disappear.

Come on! Take responsibility for your actions instead of complaining that “they” are doing it wrong.

Alien Bard says:

Re: How can ...

I agree as well. Unfortunately the reality is that they will simply turn away people like us until all they have left are a group of malleable retards who don’t have a clue and will do whatever they are told without argument. The occasional cold-blooded snake will also get in but these will quickly move into the paid staff section.

Danny (profile) says:

Is this a contract?

Can someone who knows contract law explain how this can be binding? As a volunteer, what consideration am I receiving for donating my time to them? I can understand how they can terminate a volunteer relationship if they don’t like a volunteer’s behavior, but I don’t see how they can imply any sort of extended contractual relationship.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Is this a contract?

Of course it isn’t binding. Did you read the thing? All it says at the bottom is that you read and understood the policies. Heck, it doesn’t even say you agree to them. Like I said before, violation only results in termination of your volunteer status, unless you actually do something illegal.

I give Mike credit for linking the actual document so we could all see this, but this is NOT a case of them making you attempt to sign your rights away. If you want to see THAT, just look at any standard software license agreement. (Except there you don’t even sign.)

AR (profile) says:

Re: Re: Is this a contract?

“Of course it isn’t binding. Did you read the thing? All it says at the bottom is that you read and understood the policies”

If its not an attempt to be binding, then whats the point? This document being a binding contract is implied and assumed by the requirement of a signature. In signing you are acknowledging that you cant do the stated actions. Which I read as using social media as a way of stating what goes on behind the curtain and out of view of the public eye. You dont need a reason to dismiss a volunteer. its not like they can file for “unvolunteerment” compensation. its a way to have the volunteer compensate the organization if they publicize any questionable actions by that organization.

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