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Are You Compliant With Volunteering Laws

Ultimately, nonprofit organizations must have effective volunteer managers who recruit volunteers. Therefore, it’s important for volunteer leaders to understand labor laws and the distinction between unpaid volunteers and employees. Otherwise, you risk breaking the law unknowingly.

The first step is to exercise due diligence in order to comprehend your legal rights and duties. Read on for our general overview of Federal Volunteering Law to ensure your organization is compliant. We recommend volunteer managers consult their state’s labor office for full details.

Article Contents
Volunteer vs. Paid Employees
Labor Laws and Volunteering
Wages and Volunteering
Staying Compliant

Volunteers vs. Paid Employees

The US Department of Labor defines a volunteer as someone who gives their time and effort without expecting payment in return. There are rules for workers in the public and nonprofit sectors where it is not essential to pay minimum wage or overtime.

A paid employee holds a position in an organization and is entitled to fair compensation for any work done for the organization. Paid employees may work in different roles such as consultant, trainee, or a part- or full-time employee.

Labor Laws and Volunteering

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), published by the US Department of Labor, outlines volunteer labor laws. Under this act, employees are prohibited from providing voluntary services to for-profit private enterprises.

Also, employees may not perform voluntary work for any private-sector firm that is subject to the FLSA. Private businesses that allow workers to put in unpaid hours are making themselves vulnerable to wage and hour complaints and possible lawsuits.

Under no circumstances should a private-sector employer seek to enable or require employees to donate their time and skills without pay. Additionally, private and for-profit organizations cannot compel their employees to waive their FLSA rights.

Volunteering and the Public Sector

Employees have a little more leeway to volunteer in the public sector, but the FLSA's prohibition on employees doing their regular job responsibilities for their company still applies. So, employees in the public sector are permitted to volunteer their services to their employer or the government agency for which they work. However, these activities must be distinct from their regular job responsibilities.

Nonetheless, an employee in the public sector may offer their regular employment services to another public body or authority as a volunteer. For instance, an elementary school teacher may volunteer to drive a school bus to a baseball game or museum but not offer to teach primary classes in their own school system. Additionally, the teacher could offer to work as a volunteer in a different school district.

PRO TIP: Anyone working in the private sector can volunteer in any position or profession in the public sector.

Volunteering and Nonprofit Organizations

Any type of nonprofit organization (religious, charity etc.) that receives a person's services is not considered an employer of the person who donates their time or volunteers for them, generally on a part-time basis and without any expectation of compensation.

Employees of nonprofit organizations may volunteer their services, but such activities must not be a part of their usual job responsibilities and frequently cannot be completed during regular working hours.

Wages and Volunteering

In some cases, employees are enticed to work for a company in exchange for a reward. Golf clubs are well known for offering complimentary rounds of golf in exchange for "volunteer" services like first-tee starters, on-course aides, bag room or cart attendants, etc. This puts them in direct violation of FLSA volunteer regulations.

Employers who offer volunteers any benefits or bonuses but do not provide any other form of payment violate the FLSA rules. They virtually break the FLSA when they say a volunteer is "working for tips."

The FLSA mandates that each employee must get payment from their employer for all hours worked. However, for volunteers, it all depends on the type of organization and whether or not the volunteer opportunity meets the legal criteria.

Non Profit Organizations

An individual who donates hours of service to a nonprofit organization while not employed by the organization in any capacity is considered a volunteer and not an employee under the FLSA.

Public Entities

The Fair Standard Labor Act for volunteers states that those who willingly provide their skills can volunteer to work for any public sector agency without receiving compensation. However, public employers must ensure that any employee offering volunteer, unpaid work has not been compelled to do so by any agency official, either directly or indirectly.

The FLSA forbids public sector workers from volunteering unpaid overtime to perform the same services or tasks for which they are already employed.

Staying Compliant

Volunteer regulations are crucial in today's job market. They exist to distinguish paid employees and volunteers and to ensure that employers do not exploit workers for their time and effort without pay. Volunteers contribute to the success of non-profit and government institutions; therefore, making sure you’re compliant with volunteer labor laws is a must.

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