Law sets guidelines for business 'volunteers'
What is the state's attitude on volunteers in a business? I saw a hospital ad in the Star-Bulletin acknowledging "its team of 500-plus students, working professionals and retirees." Can any business (not nonprofit) do this? I have a son and daughter whom I encourage to volunteer in fields of their choice. I think it works both ways -- the person can either get personal recognition and add to his/her resume, and the business might be able to get a proficient worker for a while. So can a person work for free, in a limited time period, in a "regular" business?
Answer: There is no specific state regulation relating to the use of volunteers, said James Hardway, special assistant to the director of the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.
However, someone working for a for-profit business would have to meet six criteria to be considered a volunteer under the state's Wage Standards laws.
This was not a simple question to answer because it involves three divisions within the Labor Department -- Wage Standards, Unemployment Insurance, and Disability Compensation (overseeing Workers Compensation, Temporary Disability Insurance or TDI, and Prepaid Health Care) -- each with its own definition of an employee, Hardway said.
An employer may have obligations under one division, but not under another.
For Unemployment Insurance, "it doesn't matter to us whether the volunteers 'work' for free for a business," Hardway said, as long as there is no contract or remuneration involved. Volunteers are not considered employees and there are no wages to be reported.
For the Disability Compensation Division, a private employer would not have to cover a volunteer for TDI and health care insurance, Hardway said, "but if the volunteer were injured on the premises, workers' comp would most likely cover" the volunteer.
Under state law, volunteers are covered for medical expenses when working for the state or county, but with private employers, the department would need to determine what the employment relationship is and whether the employer would fall under state law requiring such coverage, he said.
When it comes to wage standards, "an employer-employee relationship must exist in order for minimum wage and overtime requirements to apply," Hardway said. "Individuals who volunteer their services to religious, public service and similar nonprofit organizations are usually not considered employees if there is no promise or expectation of compensation and no regular employee is replaced in the performance of normal duties."
That said, whether someone who volunteers to work in a "regular" profit-making business is an employee depends "on all of the circumstances of a specific situation," he said.
In general, trainees or students are NOT considered employees if all six of the following criteria apply, Hardway said:
» The training, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to that which would be given in a vocational school.
» Training is for the benefit of trainees or students.
» Trainees or students do not displace regular employees but work under their close observation.
» The employer derives no immediate advantages from the activities of the trainees or students, and operations may actually be impeded at times.
» Trainees or students are not necessarily entitled to a job at the end of the training period.
» The employer and the trainees/students understand that the latter are not entitled to wages for the time spent in training.
For clarification or more information, call the labor director's office at 586-8844, or e-mail email@example.com.
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