For the Greater Good: When Do You Have to Pay Volunteers?

One of my favorite movies is Hot Fuzz, the story of an overzealous London policeman (Simon Pegg), who transfers to a small town where things are not as they seem. Throughout the movie, various characters declare that something is being done “for the greater good.” Watch the movie. I won’t play spoiler. After you watch, go to imdb.com and read more about all the subtleties you may have missed. Trust me on this one.

Anyway, this is the part of the blog post where I segue from a totally unrelated pop culture reference to something related to employment.

Today we’ll talk about volunteers — you know, those who perform work “for the greater good” (nailed it!).

Where is the line between volunteers and employees, and when must volunteers be paid?

The Department of Labor (DOL) is pretty tough when it comes to determining Who Is My Employee?  As explained here, a worker not in business for himself/herself is usually presumed to be an employee under the Economic Realities Test.

The DOL, however, recognizes an exception for work that is truly volunteer work — so long as it’s not wink wink nod nod really employment.

What’s the difference?

The key components of true volunteer work are:

  • Voluntary service
  • Offered freely, without pressure or coercion, direct or implied, from an employer
  • When so motivated
  • For civic, charitable, or humanitarian reasons
  • Without promise, expectation, or receipt of compensation
  • Service is not provided to a for-profit private entity

When these factors are met, the work is being performed for the greater good. It’s most likely volunteer work, not employment, and therefore not compensable.

If all of these factors are not met, be careful. The work might be compensable employment.

It’s never a bad idea to have volunteers sign a Volunteer Agreement in which they agree to all of these items, especially that they have no expectation of compensation for what they are doing.

Now go and watch the movie.

© 2017 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.

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