Do I Have to Pay My Employees When We Volunteer?

Category: @work, Department of Labor, Wage and Hour

Do I Have to Pay My Employees When We Volunteer?


Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have caused massive damage in recent days. In addition to much needed donations to organizations assisting storm ravaged areas, many employers would like to do more. Can an employer ask its employees to join volunteer efforts, such as assisting at shelters and aiding clean-up efforts? With offices in Alabama and Texas, and with clients throughout the country, our firm has been particularly attuned to the FLSA compliance issues this question raises.

An employer can certainly pay employees to assist in relief efforts. In fact, an employer who directs employees to spend a day on relief efforts must pay them for their work. It’s more complicated when an employer asks for volunteers. There is a fine line between true volunteer work and “suffering or permitting” the employee to work, which is compensable.

The Department of Labor tells us that employers do not have to pay employees for true volunteer work. What does this mean? According to the regulations, true volunteer work is rare. “Time spent in work for public or charitable purposes at the employer's request, or under his direction or control, or while the employee is required to be on the premises, is working time. However, time spent voluntarily in such activities outside of the employee's normal working hours is not hours worked.” 29 C.F.R. §785.44.

Civic minded employers should be mindful of these principles:

  • Volunteering as an organization can be a great way to boost morale, but it must be truly voluntary;
  • Employees should not engage in unpaid volunteer work during normal work hours;
  • Employee volunteer work should not be performed on the employer’s premises; and
  • Employers should not supervise an employee’s volunteer work.

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