Can Nonprofit Employees Volunteer for Their Employer? - American Society of Employers - Linda Olejniczak

Can Nonprofit Employees Volunteer for Their Employer?

volunteerSo, your nonprofit employee also wants to volunteer at your nonprofit?  It can be done, but employers must make sure they don’t violate the law. 

Volunteers play a crucial role in allowing nonprofits to offer their programs and services to their communities.  Individuals want to volunteer because they are passionate about a cause and want to be part of making a difference.  Your employees’ passion most likely drew them to seeking the role at your nonprofit organization.

An employee has different legal protections than a volunteer. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) sets forth rules to determine whether workers are employees or volunteers and what protections may apply.  FLSA defines volunteers as people who freely provide services without any expectations of compensation for service, or humanitarian objectives.

Before you think you have a work around filling all your volunteer positions, make sure you are creating an authentic volunteer experience and abiding by the Department of Labor’s (DOL) rules. These include:

  • Verifying that the employee is freely volunteering.
  • Making sure the type of volunteer work is not similar to an employee’s regular duties.
  • Ensuring the volunteer work being done by an employee does not displace a regular employee position.
  • Making sure the volunteer work is done outside of regular work hours.
  • Not compensating the employee for volunteer work.
  • Ensuring the nature of the work is in keeping with typical types of volunteer work.

To avoid potential legal problems consider incorporating these best practices when you want an employee to become a volunteer.

  • Create a separate volunteer handbook from your employee handbook that includes guidelines for employees who choose to volunteer.
  • Have employees sign up and follow the typical volunteer procedures when they are volunteering.
  • Ensure supervisors know when an employee is volunteering to reduce the risk of being asked to perform their regular duties.
  • Ensure supervisors and employee know not to discuss, plan, or work on volunteer activities during regular work hours.
  • Provide volunteers with the standard expense reimbursement form that requires a receipt or invoice, so you have clear documentation.
  • Make sure any appreciation gifts are small and nominal to avoid exceeding the DOL's standards.

Having employees become volunteers at your nonprofit can be a win-win for most organizations, but it's vital to ensure that all labor and volunteer rules are being followed.  You should always approach this situation with careful consideration to avoid costly wage and hour claims. 


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