Overview: Private employers may not accept the services of volunteers without payment under any circumstances. They are required under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to pay an employee who "volunteers" to work the minimum wage for all hours worked and overtime for any hours beyond 40 in a workweek.
However, certain employers - public agencies, religious groups, charities and similar nonprofit organizations - may accept the unpaid services of volunteers under certain circumstances. Public employers may even accept unpaid volunteer services from their own employees, as long as they do not pressure or coerce the employees into service and as long as the employees are volunteering to perform services different than those they were hired to perform during their normal job.
Trends: In recent years, more and more employers have instituted employee volunteer programs. Typically, the employer sets aside one day a year during which employees are encouraged to donate their time and money to a local charity group. These programs can help boost employee morale and burnish the employer's image in the community. However, employers that establish such programs must be certain employees are paid for any and all time spent volunteering.
Michael Cardman, Legal Editor
A new federal appeals court ruling offers examples of the kind of steps public employers can take to stay on the right side of the line that separates volunteers from employees.
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