Volunteers and Risks to Your Business When Injured

clock-239268_1280Warning to not-for-profit employers: Your volunteer workers could file a Workers’ Compensation claim against you.  (For-profit employers, read on.  This could cost you, too.)

If a volunteer gets hurt at your workplace, he or she might try to prove an employer-employee relationship exists.  If so, the volunteer has the right to file a Workers’ Comp claim.

If a volunteer can prove one or more of the rules listed below) exist in the relationship with you, he or she may end up winning a Workers’ Comp claim.  It is not clear how many of the rules a claimant must prove.  They could win by proving any two of the rules.  Some previous court cases indicate the criteria of control (rule number 4) is probably the most important.

Here are six rules commonly used by courts and enforcement agencies to determine an employer-employee relationship.

You, as an employer:

  1. Have the right to discharge or terminate the relationship.
  2. Have the right to discharge or terminate the relationship.
  3. Are responsible for paying wages to the worker.
  4. Have the right to control the work.
  5. Have authority over the work.
  6. Benefit from the work.

The burden is yours to prove the above rules do not exist.  The best way to do this is to have a set policy of what you believe a volunteer is.  Make sure all volunteers see and sign a copy of the policy.  Also, have a volunteer check-in sheet.  Make sure the volunteers sign in and out.

Another thing to look at is what were the circumstances at the time of the accident.  Go back to the checklist of rules for an employer/employee relationship.  At the moment of the accident, which rules existed, which did not?

If you are using volunteer help to do work which benefits your organization (the employer), the injured volunteer could qualify for Workers’ Comp.  Check with your carrier to see if your Workers’ Comp covers such volunteer help.

Volunteers are not legal if your organization is a for-profit organization.  You may legally use volunteer help only if your organization is a not-for-profit organization or a government entity.

The “catch” facing for-profit employers: You could have a volunteer employee who gets injured or killed while working for you.

Example 1: You are a trucking firm using contract drivers.  One morning you ask one of the drivers to carry some heavy cartons from the loading dock into the office.  The “volunteer” lifts the boxes and gets a back injury.  This could result in a Workers’ Comp claim because rules 4, 5, and 6 above would apply.

Example 2: One of your employees brings a friend, child, spouse, or relative in “for a few minutes” to help get out a rush job.  This helper “volunteers” to help out for a few minutes or an hour.  During this time the person is injured.  You now have a possible Workers’ Comp claim.


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