ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Most recently I was deployed to Alabama to do disaster relief after an F3 tornado destroyed the City of Albertville. Self-employed but working on a contract with the Federal Government, I quickly realized the benefits (and downsides) of being able to do this.
When I leave work to volunteer, locally or otherwise, I don't get paid. Literally, if I'm not there, I'm not getting paid. Most often, however, the benefit outweighs the cost. For me, going back to Alabama was a no-brainer because the city that got wiped out by the tornado was the city I used to live and work in. Whatever the cost to me, the benefit was that I got to minister to "my own people."
On a separate occasion a colleague, another contractor, went to Haiti for a month to assist with that disaster. After being gone for just a few days he was met with the news that he would be fired upon returning to work for not having given 30 days notice of his intent to deploy, thus breaching the terms of his contract. What?!? That's right, apparently he forgot to turn on his crystal ball and foresee the impending doom of the citizens of Haiti. Thankfully, it was slowly but surely resolved after many meetings and clarifications.
What was the difference between his situation and mine? About 21 days of absence. Neither of us got paid during our respective deployments but since his was an extended absence it apparently made a huge difference.
Perhaps you are asking why I'm writing this article. Simply to inform those who are currently searching for employment to consider the importance of their volunteer work and the implications it could have on their job, especially a new one.
If you intend to spend any amount of time missing work due to your volunteer activities, discuss this up front with your employer. Find out what the company policy is. Learn how it might negatively (or positively) impact your performance reviews.
How do you bring up this topic with a potential employer? Ask about what types of community support the company is involved in. Do the employees support a specific charitible group during the holidays? Does the company have ongoing support for organizations such as United Way? It will at least open the door for you to explain your interests in volunteerism. More importantly, it will help you to gauge the amount of time that you could spend away from work doing volunteer activities without being penalized.