In the U.S., there is a safety net system in place called workers’ compensation. This system is in place to protect workers who are injured while working. If you have a job where injury is even a slight possibility, you need to have a good understanding of how this system works. For instance, many people do not know whether volunteers are covered. The last thing you want is to find out that you are not eligible for workers’ comp after it is too late. This guide will examine the question of volunteer coverage specifically.
Workers’ Comp Eligibility
First things first, volunteers are most likely not eligible for workers’ comp. However, there are rare instances where a volunteer might qualify. This actually relates directly to one of the two requirements for qualifying for workers’ comp. The requirements are:
- The worker must be an employee
- The injury must be work-related
What the worker is referred to as does not matter. Instead, their legal classification is what really determines eligibility. To qualify, you need to be an employee. Typically, volunteers are not employees, but in some cases, the employer may have taken the steps to classify the volunteer as an official employee. Employees are always paid, so unpaid volunteers are never covered. The easiest way to tell if you are an employee is to examine your paycheck. If a portion of your check was withheld for tax purposes, you are an employee. Otherwise, you are likely an independent contractor or freelance worker.
The second requirement is actually the more complicated of the two. The injury needs to be caused by work-related activities. The easiest way to determine this is to consider whether the business benefited by the actions being taken which lead to the injury. So if you fell while mopping the floor and injured yourself, that would be work related. However, if you fell down while navigating the break room while off the clock, that injury would be unrelated to work and would not be covered.
Because volunteers are typically not covered by workers’ comp, you need to factor that into your decision making. If the volunteer work is potentially dangerous, you might want to avoid taking the job. If you get injured, you will have to either rely on your insurance policy or pay for it out of pocket. If you have any deeper questions about workers’ comp coverage, you should speak with a workers’ compensation lawyer, like a workers’ compensation lawyer in Green Bay, WI.
Thanks to Hickey & Turim for their insight into whether volunteers can collect workers’ compensation.