This issue arises most often in situations when an employee wants to know whether the time they spent freely offering to do something for their employer is considered volunteering or work and whether that time is compensable. For employers, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) places some strict limits on “volunteering” by employees to protect against the obvious abuse that could occur because of the vastly different bargaining positions between employers and employees. Some examples of activities considered compensable work include:
- An employee voluntarily continues to work at the end of their working hours, such as finishing an assigned task, preparing reports, finish waiting on a customer or taking care of a patient in an emergency at the end of their shifts.
- An employee who is required to remain on call on the employer’s premises with constraints placed on the employee’s freedom.
- A person hired to be engaged to wait for something to do or something to happen.
- An employee travels from job site to job site during the workday as part of their principal activity.
People are allowed to volunteer their services to public agencies and their community. Therefore, the employer need not compensate an employee for time spent volunteering for charitable purposes if the employee is truly volunteering and not performing the volunteer work as a result of coercion or pressure by the employer. Time spent volunteering primarily for the benefit of the employer or under his direction or control is work and must be paid in accordance with the minimum wage and overtime requirements of the FLSA.
When Volunteering Becomes Free Labor
The Department of Labor (DOL) has clearly expressed regulations for when an employer cannot require or accept volunteer service from their nonexempt employees. The FLSA and its regulations provide one exception, and that is only when it comes to volunteer service at outside events. For these events, for-profit, private sector employers can accept volunteer service from their employees as can non-profit and/or public entities. Employees can participate voluntarily and without compensation in outside charitable events if:
- The volunteer or charity event is unrelated to the employer’s usual business and participation does not bring direct economic benefit to employer’s business.
- The event takes place outside of regular working hours.
- Employees’ participation is truly voluntary, meaning that employers cannot treat volunteer participants more favorably than non-participants.
- Employers do not employ and regularly pay workers to participate in that event.
Each case is different, so you cannot assume that every charitable event is the same or your voluntary time to do something freely for your employer is not compensable. Also, some employees are exempt from various provisions of the law. Too see if the time you spent is considered work and therefore compensable, it’s best to contact an attorney knowledgeable about wage and hour laws.
Image link: https://pixabay.com/en/painter-painting-employee-building-2751658/