Volunteers and Employees: What’s the Difference?being there // on Thursday April 14, 2016
There’s no doubt about it: Employees and volunteers are essential to the well-being of nonprofit organizations. And while regular paychecks separate paid personnel from volunteers, that’s not the only difference. Volunteers should complement, not replace, the work of employees.
Blurring the boundaries between volunteer and employee status – paying a volunteer more than a nominal fee or expecting an employee to volunteer after hours, for instance – can create compliance issues with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Keep these dos and don’ts in mind to avoid problems:
DO define everyone’s roles. Create clear, thorough job descriptions for every employee in your organization and include the employee’s classification and status, education and other requirements and job duties. While you’re at it, develop volunteer position descriptions and a volunteer agreement that allows you to set specific guidelines for employees who want to volunteer when they’re off the clock.
DON’T pressure employees (or anyone!) to volunteer. Coercion to work without pay is a surefire way to attract a wage and hour claim. Make sure your organization’s supervisors fully understand this.
DON’T jeopardize employee status. It’s great when employees are passionate about your organization’s cause and want to volunteer – but you should be especially cognizant of off-the-clock service. Keep tabs on nonexempt employees’ hours worked and compensation to ensure everything is FLSA-compliant, and make sure exempt employees follow protocol to become after-hours volunteers.
DO exercise caution when paying volunteers. If you wish to compensate volunteers, limit payment to direct reimbursement for expenses, reasonable benefits and/or nominal fees for services.
And if there’s ever any concern about accidentally converting a volunteer to employee status, ask yourself these questions developed by the Nonprofit Risk Management Center. (Hint: The answers to the first four questions should be “yes,” and the last two should be “no.”)
- Is the entity that will benefit/receive services from the volunteer a nonprofit organization?
- Is the activity less than a full-time occupation?
- Are the services offered freely and without pressure or coercion?
- Are the services of the kind typically associated with volunteer work?
- Have regular employees been displaced to accommodate the volunteer?
- Does the worker receive (or expect) any benefit from the entity to which it is providing services?
To summarize, it’s better to be safe than sorry when managing volunteers and employees, and practicing risk management strategies doesn’t diminish the valuable work they do.
Source: Nonprofit Risk Management Center