Does Employment Law Apply to Volunteers at Nonprofit Organizations?

does employment law apply to volunteers

If you are a volunteer working at a nonprofit organization, you may wonder if employment law applies to you. The answer is yes, but only if you have an employee-like status. Volunteers in nonprofit organizations are exempt from many of the laws surrounding employment law. For example, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not apply to people who donate their time and services without any expectation of compensation or coercion. However, there is a federal standard that allows nonprofit organizations to pay reasonable expenses and provide reasonable benefits. These benefits could include a minimal fee for uniforms and transportation, as long as the services are necessary to the organization’s mission.


Volunteers and employees have very different obligations under the law. Volunteers for nonprofits are not considered employees. However, volunteers can be paid a reasonable fee for their work and be reimbursed for reasonable expenses. Volunteers can work for a different public agency or for the same organization but cannot be paid for the same services. Volunteers may receive training similar to what they would get from vocational school.

Employees who volunteer for employers have to comply with the law. Unless they are directed by the employer, it is not considered employment. In addition, the volunteer work must occur outside of the employee’s normal working hours. Otherwise, the work is considered working time, and the volunteer is required to be paid.

Fortunately, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act provides significant protections to volunteers. The FLSA protects volunteers from harassment and discrimination, and some volunteer roles may even grant immunity from personal injury lawsuits. However, if you are unsure about the law and volunteering in California, contact a California employment attorney.


A volunteer’s employment status depends on several factors. For example, the Supreme Court has upheld a purposive approach to employment law, examining the parties’ ‘true agreement’ to do the work. It is important to note that the legal status of a volunteer depends on its circumstances, including the nature of the assignment, and whether payment or benefits are provided. If a volunteer is paid, or receives benefits in kind, he will be considered a worker entitled to minimum wage and overtime pay.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) defines “employment” very broadly. For example, a volunteer performing work for a nonprofit organization may be considered an FLSA employee if he or she is not paid. If this is the case, the FLSA applies to both volunteers and paid employees. In such situations, employers must compensate volunteers according to FLSA standards. The FLSA also prohibits employers from misclassifying volunteers as employees.

Many nonprofit organizations provide monetary benefits to volunteers. These benefits can include stipends, reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses, and discounts for services. These payments may be taxable compensation, so nonprofit organizations must make sure they treat their volunteers accordingly.


If you’re a volunteer, you may wonder whether employment law applies to you. The answer depends on your legal status. As a worker or employee, you have certain rights and responsibilities, and you have to protect them. Whether you’re a genuine volunteer or an unpaid intern, employment law can protect your rights and responsibilities.

Volunteers and interns are often confused with employees. While they both work for nonprofit organizations, volunteers and interns are legally distinct roles and responsibilities. As a result, organizations need to document the difference between the two. For instance, they should have separate manuals and policies for their respective categories. Furthermore, supervisors shouldn’t be allowed to require volunteers to perform work that they would do for an employee.

Besides volunteering, you can engage in other types of work that doesn’t require a salary. Interns are usually classified as employees if they receive significant remuneration. However, interns can also be categorized as independent contractors.

501(c)(3) nonprofits

If you’re a volunteer at a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, you need to know the law on employment and benefits. Volunteers are not considered employees, but the time they spend performing certain tasks may be treated as compensation. That means you must withhold income tax and FICA contributions from their payments.

It is important to be careful not to violate the law by failing to conduct a background check. This can lead to serious consequences for your organization and your volunteers. While your 501(c)(3) nonprofit status shields you from lawsuits, this doesn’t mean you can ignore the law and hire volunteers without screening them.

As a nonprofit’s employee, you must not pressure them to volunteer, because this can lead to lawsuits and monetary consequences. If you do, you’ll be violating FLSA regulations and possibly jeopardizing your employees’ rights. The FLSA defines volunteers as “people who provide services or goods without expectation of compensation” for public service, religious, or humanitarian purposes. If your employees are volunteering, it is important that you make sure they are signed up for the volunteer agreement. You should also have a standard form for expenses reimbursement.

Nonprofits may use volunteers, interns, and other non-paid employees to carry out various tasks. Volunteers usually do these tasks on a part-time basis and do not expect any pay. However, employees of private businesses may not volunteer their services to nonprofit organizations.


Volunteers are not considered employees under the FLSA, but their work does have legal implications. Volunteers provide hours of service for charitable, humanitarian, or civic reasons without receiving compensation. However, they may be entitled to reimbursement for expenses, reasonable benefits, or nominal fees. If you’re planning to hire a volunteer, it’s essential to know your FLSA rights.

If you’re not sure how the FLSA applies to volunteers, here’s how to determine if you’re in compliance. The FLSA defines a volunteer as a person who does not receive wages from an employer, but works on behalf of an employer in a specific capacity and subject to the employer’s direction. In addition to promoting a corporate culture, volunteer programs can maximize an organization’s positive impact on the community.

While employees in the private sector may be prohibited from volunteering for nonprofit organizations, they are allowed to do it in the public sector. The FLSA allows these employees to perform voluntary work that does not interfere with their regular job duties. The key is to ensure that the volunteer work is clearly separated from the employee’s regular duties.

Public agencies

The FLSA applies to volunteer hours performed by public agencies. However, this law does not apply to all volunteers. The DOL must examine the level of control the public agency has over the volunteer organization. Whether or not a public agency can classify an individual as a volunteer will depend on the type of work the agency does.

While volunteers can work for public agencies, they cannot do the same job as a paid employee. For example, an employee of a highway department cannot volunteer to plow the roads in another town. However, that same employee may volunteer his or her services to an organization that provides volunteer services for other towns. While this might be considered a different public agency, the employment law would still apply to the volunteer’s time with the public agency.

In many instances, public agencies can offer volunteers a nominal fee as compensation for their time and effort. This payment can offset the expenses of the volunteer. In other cases, such as fire department volunteers, a volunteer can be paid per call. When determining the amount of the nominal fee, the agency must consider factors such as distance traveled, the time and effort expended by the volunteer, and whether the volunteer’s services are provided year-round or for only a certain period of time.

Private-sector employers

Private-sector employers can employ volunteers if they follow certain guidelines. However, the amount of compensation should not exceed 20 percent of the full-time employee’s salary. Benefits should also not be linked to the number of hours worked. Whether a business can employ volunteers also depends on the nature of the work. Volunteers must not perform services that are similar to those provided by paid employees.

Volunteers must not be exempt from federal or state laws or regulations. However, nonprofit and public organizations may be able to accept volunteer labor. In such cases, it is imperative that the employer is able to clearly identify that the relationship is not an employment relationship and that the volunteer is truly volunteering.

Moreover, volunteers should be free from any coercion. The Second Circuit’s 2013 case noted that a public agency cannot use the FLSA’s volunteer exception to discourage volunteers. This case also emphasized that Congress did not want to limit volunteers by making them work for free.

While voluntary work may be a great option for public sector organizations, private-sector employers may want to think twice. A for-profit employer should always consider paying its volunteers for their work. If it is not, it may violate the FLSA’s rules against employers.

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