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Typically, and unfortunately, volunteers are not covered for Workers’ Compensation benefits when they sustain on injury while volunteering. Volunteers are individuals who perform services for other individuals or companies which are not based upon contract for hire and who do not expect some form of compensation for those services.

Some Volunteers Specifically Excluded

Under the Labor Code, there are volunteers who are specifically denied Workers’ Compensation coverage.  This includes the following:

  • Volunteer Deputy Sheriffs or Deputy Clerks who receive no compensation for their services (Labor Code 3352 (a) (3). Although they may be deemed an employee upon adoption of a resolution providing such coverage by the local board of supervisors (Labor Code 3364).
  • Volunteers for Religious or Charitable Organizations performing services in return for only aid or substance are not deemed employees entitled to worker’s compensation (Labor Code, 3352 (a) (2) .

It is important to note that, without volunteers many, if not most, of these religious, charitable or relief organizations could not survive.  They rely on a lot of volunteers.  After all, an army of volunteers can be obtained at minimal expense, whereas an army of employees cannot.

  • Volunteers for Public Agency or Private Non-Profit Organizations are not considered employees entitled to Workers’ Compensation benefits if they do not receive any “remuneration” other than meals, lodging, transportation or reimbursement for incidental expenses. Note that this remuneration (or compensation) does not necessarily mean payment by money.  The courts have found many circumstances where the individual received some other benefit, other than monetary compensation for their services that resulted in a finding of an employment relationship. So these situations need to be looked at very carefully.
  • Volunteers at Non-Profit Recreations Camps/Lodges. Such volunteers are not deemed employees if they are a member of the organization and receive no compensation other than meals, lodging and/or transportation. (Labor Code 3352 (a) (4).

Some Volunteers Specifically Included

Despite the above, there are also specifically included volunteers who are entitled to Workers’ Compensation coverage and benefits under certain circumstances, including:

  • Sheriff’s Reserve Volunteers. Although there does exist the exclusion set forth above, Labor Code, Section 3364 provides that a volunteer who is an unsalaried member of a sheriff’s reserve will be considered an employee upon the adoption of a resolution by the appropriate board of supervisors and will receive Workers’ Compensation benefits for any injury that occurs while engaged in active law enforcement under the direction and control of the sheriff.
  • Persons Assisting Officers in Active Law Enforcement at the request of a peace officer are considered an employee of the public entity that is being assisted. Voluntary assistance, without request, is not enough!
  • Volunteer Firefighters registered as an active firefighting member of a regularly organized volunteer fire department, having recognition and support of the locality that they serve will be considered employees. (Labor Code 3361).
  • Individuals Assisting in Firefighting providing technical assistance to a public entity, again at the request of a firefighting or law enforcement officer are considered an employees. (Labor Code 3367 (a)).
  • School District Volunteers will be considered an employee of a school district or the county superintendent upon the adoption of a resolution of the governing board of the district or county Board of Education. (Labor Code5).

Don’t Jump to Conclusions

Clearly, the facts are controlling in the above cases.  Questions regarding exactly what benefit, consideration or “remuneration”  the volunteers receiving, under whose direction and control they are providing services, exactly what is the nature of the services they are providing, was their service requested, are they covered by the adoption of a special resolution, etc – are all important inquiries.

“Volunteers” should not merely be dismissed as not being entitled to Workers’ Compensation and in all such cases (whether or not included in the above discussion), the attorney should do a “deep dive” into the exact facts and circumstances surrounding such services to see if these individuals can be afforded the benefits of the Workers’ Compensation system.

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