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Should Volunteers Be Covered By Workers’ Compensation?

In what many consider a black and white issue, questions have been raised regarding workers’ compensation benefits for volunteers. It would seem the phrase “workers’ compensation” says it all; compensation available to employees injured while performing work-related duties.

The issue is not so clear when you begin to look at individuals such as volunteer firefighters or individuals working with a non-profit organization. Although these individuals may not qualify as “workers”, should they be denied protection and coverage while performing duties others would be paid to do?

The laws are fairly clear regarding coverage for individuals who volunteer their services in the state of New York. Here we look at examples of when workers’ compensation is available and situations where it is not required.

  • Any not-for-profit organization which does not provide compensation (wages, stipends, room and board, other benefits with monetary value) to volunteers in not required to obtain a workers’ compensation policy. Individuals volunteering for these organizations would generally not be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.
  • A not-for-profit organization which provides compensation with monetary value to volunteers is required to obtain a workers’ compensation policy with the exception of paid clergy members, individuals engaged in a teaching capacity for a religious, educational or charitable institution and persons engaged in a non-manual capacity for the same institutions. In some cases, organizations may choose to voluntarily provide workers’ compensation coverage for individuals otherwise except.

Communities which rely on the services of volunteer firefighters have found high workers’ compensation premiums are difficult to fit into the budget. Due to the nature of the “work” performed by these volunteers, injuries are common making it a necessary expense. Many communities turn to fund raisers and other forms of donations to provide the workers’ compensation coverage needed to ensure their volunteers are covered.

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