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Volunteers as Employees

The question regarding Volunteers often arises:
Which volunteers qualify as an “employee” for purposes of Worker’s Compensation?


Brought to you by the Insurance Board of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ.
The question regarding Volunteers often arises:
Which volunteers qualify as an “employee” for purposes of Worker’s Compensation?

  1. States vary in how broadly they interpret the definition of an employee. For a volunteer to obtain statutory benefits they need to be recognized as an employee under the specific state’s statutes.  Some states are silent on this issue and others are not.  Some states only recognize public volunteers as eligible for comp, such as volunteer firefighters.  Many times the question will need to e “litigated” and the administrative agency or courts will make a ruling based on the facts of the particular case.  You may not be able to change the status of a worker simply by agreeing to do so.
  2. The second issue is whether the volunteer can be considered an independent contractor, rather than an employee. Usually the right to control the individual in the performance of a job is the determining factor, but there are several other factors that must be considered.  For example, whether or not the worker is engaged in a distinct occupation or business, or whether the work is also performed for others or involves the kind of work that is usually done by independent contractors. The length of time involved may also be considered.  for example, if a volunteer spends an hour of time at the church on one occasion to cut the lawn while the staff custodian is no vacation, it is likely that they will not be considered an employee. However, if a party who is not an independent maintenance contractor does ground maintenance and custodial work for the church on a regularly scheduled ongoing basis they might be considered an employee (i.e. Staff Custodian), even if they are not being paid.  As you can see, it often depends on multiple factors.
  3. One test that is gaining popular acceptance is the specific nature of the work in relation to the regular business of the employer. If the work is an integral part of the business operation, and is directed and controlled by the insured, they are more likely to be considered an employee.  Many states exempt work that is casual (brief and irregular) and different in nature from the work regularly done by the business.  Another way to look at this is whether they are performing an essential job function that would otherwise be performed by a paid staff person or regular employee.  An example would be the group of volunteers that stop by on Saturday to give the church a new coat of paint.  most jurisdictions would likely reject such claims under Workers’ Compensation.  However, the church’s regular Secretary, who happens to be a volunteer, would likely be seen as an employee.  Likewise, volunteer Camp Directors are usually considered to be employees.Since states vary in how broadly they apply these tests, it is important to research the law in the specific jurisdiction.  Often these issues must be determined by litigation or hearing.  In questionable cases the claims are routinely denied and the administrative agency or court must decide the matter.
    To reduce ambiguity about the intent of the Volunteers as Employees Endorsement, the Insurance Board’s insurance package contains a clarification that is in keeping with the popular “test” described in item 3 above.  Understanding that it is subject to State interpretation, we endorse use of the following definition of Volunteers as Employees for the purposes of Workers’ Compensation Coverage:  Volunteer-any non-compensated natural person while that person is subject to your (church) direction and control while performing essential employment functions/duties otherwise performed by paid staff or regular employees.  Independent sub-contractors are specifically excluded.

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