Staff Compliance for Recreation & Parks Departments
The Essential Guide
Recreation & Parks Departments often employ hundreds if not thousands of full-time staff – and that number multiplies if you include the army of part-timers and volunteers that keep the entire parks system running.
One major challenge is maintaining compliance standards for your entire organization. Every time someone joins, leaves or changes roles, there's forms and paperwork to deal with...and serious consequences if you don't!
That’s why we put together this guide. First, we’ll look at general compliance requirements that apply across your whole department, then break down some specific things to consider based on different roles in Recreation & Parks divisions.
This can help you understand the breadth of requirements needed to keep you and your entire Parks & Rec department safe and compliant. So, let’s jump in!
What's in this guide:
- General Staffing Requirements
- Aquatics and Water Activities
- Athletic Programs
- Parks and Outdoors
- Volunteer Programs
General Staffing Compliance Requirements
Unsurprisingly, there are some laws and regulations that will apply to all (or most) staff in your entire department. Let’s start by diving into some of the most crucial ones.
FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act)
From sports club janitors to chimp handlers at the zoo, everyone in your department must be paid fair wages for fair work.
At a federal level, minimum wage is dictated by the FLSA, however Many states also have minimum wage laws that may supersede federal laws (if an employee is subject to both, they’re entitled to the higher of the two).
You can easily see the minimum wage for each state in the Database of State Minimum Wage Laws on the Department of Labor website. And if you're curious, you can see how the minimum has changed for each state over time.
Pro-tip: both state and local departments can also use this handy tool to check their compliance with the FLSA: State and Local Government Self-Assessment Tool.
Occupational Safety & Health
You want to keep your staff safe and healthy, right? Well, so does OSHA, also known as the Occupational Safety & Health Act, which states that an employer must:
Across the board, you need to think about things like conducting regular risk assessments in line with OSHA's General Duty Clause, providing training as per OSHA Training Standards, and ensuring the availability and proper use of Personal Protective Equipment in accordance with OSHA's PPE standards.
If your department is in a state with its own OSHA-approved plan, you have to follow state-specific regulations, which may be more strict than the federal ones. You can check whether your state has a State Plan here:
Equal Opportunity and Discrimination
At Ankored, we don't discriminate, and we know you don't either. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces a range of laws that ensure all individuals receive equal employment opportunities without discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information.
In staffing your Rec & Parks department, it's crucial to adhere to EEOC guidelines. This means that all employment-related decisions must be made without giving weight to these protected characteristics.
Your background check policy (see below) also needs to be fair and non-discriminatory. In other words, you have to apply it consistently and not exclude anyone based on factors like race or religion.
State and local jurisdictions may also have their own anti-discrimination laws, which can expand on or reinforce federal regulations. Check out both federal and state laws to ensure you’re fully compliant.
Because Parks & Recreation departments interact with the public and often with children, ensuring all staff are trustworthy is a major priority. Even the most thorough interview process can only uncover so much about a person, which leaves your department open to risk. Background checks are an essential tool to help ensure candidates have no disqualifying criminal histories.
A simple google search gives you a mind numbing range of options for background checks at multiple price points and levels of thoroughness.
At a bare minimum, a background check should include the following:
- Nationwide arrest records
- National sex offender registry
- FBI watchlists
Some states have specific regulations that dictate the nature and extent of checks – especially for roles that interact with vulnerable populations. So, always check the requirements in your area.
Read more in our Ultimate Guide to Youth Sports Background Checks.
Regardless, it’s best practice to set an organization-wide background check policy that specifies which checks are to be conducted and how.
Remember that the rights of applicants need to be protected at all times – even when conducting background checks. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provides guidelines to ensure that the use of background information is not discriminatory. Also, checks through third-party agencies need to follow the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) in order to protect candidates' privacy.
Abuse Prevention Training
Almost all states and territories have laws around mandated reporters – i.e., professions whose members are required by law to report child maltreatment or abuse. In some states, any person who suspects child abuse or neglect is required to report. This is where abuse prevention training comes in.
This training may be required by law, depending on the state, or by your department’s policy. In roles dealing with children, like youth sports, abuse prevention training ensures staff are educated in how to spot signs of abuse, and in what their responsibility is as a mandated reporter.
You can read more in our Definitive Guide to Abuse Prevention Training.
Compliance Considerations for Specific Divisions
Ok, we've covered the basics. But there's so much more to think about! Depending on the size of your Parks & Recreation agency, there may be many other compliance requirements for different specific departments.
Now, let’s break down some specific compliance considerations that may apply to staff depending on their role and what area of the department they’re in.
This list is by no means exhaustive, but aims to highlight some crucial licenses, certifications, and legal requirements for specialized roles.
Aquatics & Water Activities
Is your state hot? Is it summer right now? Then the Aquatics department may be one of your most heavily utilized services, for a few months at least. This includes everything from beaches to public pools and waterparks.
Staffing aquatics programs requires a particularly strict level of compliance, because, of course, children and water don’t always mix well! Let's look at some of key requirements for your aquatics staff by role:
- Lifeguard certification: When lives are on the line, you need people who are fully prepared for the job! Lifeguards should have a certification from a nationally recognized organization (like the American Red Cross or the YMCA). These certifications are usually valid for two years, so make it part of your policy to regularly check their validity and ensure staff are updating their qualifications as needed.
- First Aid, CPR, and AED: Lifeguards also need to have current First Aid, CPR, and AED (automated external defibrillator) certifications. This way, they’re prepared to address emergencies both in and out of the water.
- Age Requirements: Check the requirements in your jurisdiction, but minimum age requirements for lifeguards are commonly set at 15 or 16 years old.
- Background Checks: Given that lifeguards often work around children, they should definitely undergo background checks to ensure they have no disqualifying criminal history. At a minimum, background checks should cover criminal records and sex offenders registry, but some states have their own requirements and state-level database checks. Always verify the requirements in your state.
- Certification: Do all your swim instructors have a certification from a recognized organization, such as the American Red Cross's Water Safety Instructor (WSI) program or the YMCA's swim instructor program? These certifications show that the instructor has been trained in effective teaching strategies, skill progressions, and safety precautions.
- First Aid, CPR, and AED: Like lifeguards, swim instructors typically must have current certifications in CPR, AED, and First Aid.
- Child Abuse Prevention Training: Because swim instructors often work with children, they should complete training in child abuse prevention. This teaches them about the signs of abuse and mandatory reporting requirements.
- Background Checks: Swim instructors, especially those working with children, need to undergo background checks to ensure the safety of students. Again, these should cover criminal records and sex offenders registry at a minimum, and it’s important to check the requirements in your specific state.
Pool Technicians/Maintenance Staff
- Training & Certification: These types of staff need to be trained in a range of things, including water chemistry, disease prevention, OSHA safety protocols, energy conservation, equipment use, and more. While there’s no particular certification required under federal law, you may need to hire staff with a Certified Pool Operator (CPO) or Aquatic Facility Operator (AFO) certification depending on the requirements of your state. Check your state health regulations for specifics in your jurisdiction.
Did you know that there are over 2 million acres of parks across the 100 most populous cities in the United States? It's undeniable that American loves our parks! And it’s no wonder: greenspaces are brilliant at boosting our quality of life and mental health.
Running them is a big job, though. Here are some specific compliance considerations for staffing your parks division.
Groundskeepers or Horticulturists
- Pesticide Application Certification: Groundskeepers and horticultural staff often need to apply pesticides in their role, and this has to be done responsibly. Certification for pesticide applicators is managed at the state level, and while states must meet federal EPA guidelines, they can impose additional requirements. Check the details of the certification program in your state – they’re usually run by the state’s Department of Agriculture. (Check the EPA website for more information.)
- Background Checks: Park rangers typically need to undergo background checks, especially if they have law enforcement duties or work closely with children. Background checks may include a criminal history check, sex offenders registry check, identity check, MVR (motor vehicle record) check, or others depending on the employing agency (whether federal, state, or local) and the specific responsibilities of the ranger position.
- Law Enforcement Training: Park rangers who serve in a law enforcement and protective capacity may need to meet additional training requirements. These vary widely from state to state: in some states, rangers have to undergo full police academy training, while other states have specialized ranger training programs.
- Other Certifications: Depending on regulations in your area and the responsibilities of the role, park rangers may need other certifications such as training in First Aid, CPR, AED, oxygen administration, or firearms.
From youth sports programs to fields and facilities, your Athletics department is there to keep everyone healthy, active, and having fun. As well as the department-wide considerations above, here are some role-specific requirements to keep your staffing side compliant.
Sports Coaches, Umpires, Referees, and other Game Officials
- Background Checks: Naturally, you want to ensure that those in positions of authority or influence have no history of behaviors that could jeopardize the safety of participants – especially in a youth sports setting. The type of background check depends on a number of things. Read more in this guide.
- Concussion Training: All 50 states in the U.S. and the District of Columbia have passed concussion-related legislation, each with its own specific requirements around medical clearance and return-to-play protocols. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) provides a free concussion training course called Heads Up (which is also available in the Ankored Platform) which is free to complete.
- First Aid and CPR Training: When an unexpected incident occurs, this training can make a big difference. Legally, the requirements depend on state and local regulations, so always check those. And, irrespective, it’s best practice to make first aid and CPR certifications required by policy to prioritize the well-being of athletes. Safety first!
- Abuse Prevention Training: The best strategy for protecting young athletes is to prevent abuse before it occurs. Abuse Prevention Training educates your staff on how to spot red flags and how to deal with suspicions of abuse, and informs them of their legal requirements as mandated reporters.
In addition to the above (Background Checks, Concussion Training, First Aid/CPR), Athletic Trainers need to have high-level qualifications – at least a bachelor's degree – and a license or certification.
- State Licensure and BOC Certification: Nearly all states require athletic trainers to have a license or a certification from the Board of Certification for the Athletic Trainer (BOC). Some states also have their own state-specific exams. You can find a database of all the rules and regulations for each state on the National Athletic Trainers’ Association website.
Zoos are complex operations, and ensuring the well-being of animals, staff, and visitors requires multiple layers of compliance.
On top of the standard background screenings, here are a few key compliance concerns to be aware of.
- State Veterinery Licence: Veterinary staff at your zoo have to be licensed to practice in your state. Each state has a veterinary regulatory board or licensure entity that’s responsible for issuing these licenses. You can find a list of veterinary state boards here.
Safety and Security Personnel
- Emergency Response Training, First Aid and CPR: While they hopefully never have to put their training into practice, these personnel need to be prepared for animal escapes, natural disasters, or other emergencies. First Aid and CPR certifications are also crucial for addressing medical emergencies among visitors.
Zoo Garden, Landscaping & Horticultural Staff
- Pesticide Application Certification: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set federal standards for the use of pesticides to protect people, animals and the environment. Gardeners and horticultural staff at your zoo may require a pesticide license. Fortunately, the EPA's website provides step-by-step instructions for getting pesticide certified in your reigon and state.
Volunteer programs are fantastic. Your department gets invaluable help in a range of areas, while participants get to have a rewarding experience that contributes to their personal and career growth. Win-win!
Of course, you want to make sure things run smoothly and that all your compliance requirements are A-OK. Here are some things to check off on.
- Background Checks: Once again, background checks are a key element in staying compliance and providing a safe environment. Background checks for volunteers might cover criminal history, past employment or volunteer experiences, any history of abuse or neglect, and sometimes even driving records.
- Documentation and Waivers: Volunteers might need to sign waivers or release forms, acknowledging the potential risks associated with their duties and releasing the department from certain liabilities. The exact nature of these will depend on local and state laws and the duties of the role, but they’re definitely an important – and at times overlooked – aspect of compliance.
- Code of Conduct: Volunteers may not be as integrated into the organization as employees, but it’s just as important that they understand how to act and what’s expected of them. That’s where your Code of Conduct comes in, establishing expectations and standards for behavior while working with your organization.
- Mandatory Reporting: Making sure volunteers know about and follow mandatory reporting requirements is crucial, whether they’re dealing with children, the elderly, people with disabilities, or any other vulnerable population. It keeps everyone safe and ensures your department is upholding its ethical and legal responsibilities. Regardless of mandatory reporting laws in your state, you should also make it policy for volunteers to complete child abuse prevention training.
- Confidentiality Agreements: Confidentiality agreements help to ensure compliance with privacy and data protection standards, including HIPAA laws (where medical information is involved). Without these agreements, your department can suffer legal repercussions and damaged trust if sensitive information is disclosed without consent.
- Age Requirements: Ensure volunteers meet minimum age requirements and comply with child labor laws, being mindful of both federal and state guidelines
So far we've covered many of the staffing requirements that are mandated at a federal at state level to make sure you've got your essential boxes checked for each new member of your team.
In addition, there are some boxes that you don't have to check, but you probably should to reduce your risk-exposure due to non-compliance.
As your staff grows and changes, so does the amount of paperwork you're expected to complete and maintain for your staff records. If you haven't already, consider a digital document retention system for easy storage. And, more importantly, easy recall for those times when you need to pull up a piece of paperwork you haven't looked at in years!
As if your job wasn't complicated enough, many of the requirements we outlined above require annual updating, or re-certification if someone switches roles. Your compliance plan should include a system of notification for when a member of your staff falls out of compliance. (Not to toot our own horn, but Ankored's non-compliance automation is a pretty nifty feature).
Custom requirement documentation
While not require by law, you do may want to consider some custom documentation based on your individual team need. A few popular examples of custom paperwork include:
- Code of Conduct: This document defines, in specific terms, the expectations and standards for behavior for your staff and volunteers. Signing this document commits each new person to adhere to those standards.
- Liability waivers:
- Video Training Requirements: As part of a thorough