Are Volunteers Covered By Workers’ Compensation?

By Rebecca Batisto

Are Volunteers Covered By Workers’ Compensation?

Volunteers are an invaluable resource for many organizations. Hospitals, nursing homes, and animal shelters are examples of industries that have long relied on volunteers to round out their workforce and provide care in important ways.

But are your volunteers covered by workers’ compensation if they get injured while performing a service for your organization? Who foots the bill for a severe injury? Are you leaving yourself or your company open to legal action?

Don’t Assume Your Policy Covers Volunteers

In most cases, your valued volunteers are not covered should they get hurt at your workplace, even if they are performing a task you invited them to do. Typically workers’ compensation policies only cover paid employees, leaving your volunteers without coverage.

If your organization is going to employ volunteers regularly, you should consult a lawyer and your insurance provider to go over just how volunteers factor into your operations.

Be aware that volunteers not covered under your workers’ compensation policy are still legally allowed to file a suit against your organization should they become injured and seek medical or other restitution.

The Gray Area: Perks And States Make A Difference

First, some states have specific laws when it comes to covering volunteers who suffer an injury while engaged on your property. If your company has locations in multiple states, it’s crucial to understand how these laws will impact how you might do business in each.

Now – for the truly gray area – are you providing perks outside of a salary? Most states view any form of compensation - even “perks” - as an established working relationship which can be seen as payment. If this is the case then your volunteers could actually be considered employees, which would make them eligible for workers’ compensation. Interns would be a good example, where their benefit is that of experience or college credit. This exchange is considered a type of payment, which makes them covered by your workers’ comp policy.

The length of time a volunteer has been with your organization plays a role too. If a volunteer has been coming for years, some state laws will see them as an unpaid employee.

Be sure to do a comprehensive review with your insurance provider and then do a review of the processes in place at each of your locations. As I mentioned, you might need different procedures if you have operations in multiple states.

If you are utilizing volunteers in your organization, be proactive, and review your coverage with a specialist to ensure your policy appropriately addresses volunteers. We can support you in determining the appropriate amount of workers’ compensation coverage as well as processes in the workplace. Contact us today!

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