Combining paid and volunteer work?
February 9, 2009 9:51 PM   Subscribe

I am currently working as a volunteer at a nonprofit agency three days a week. They have offered to make an employee but even at minimum wage, they can only afford 16 hours (2 days) a week. They are trying to be careful to avoid unpaid overtime so they don't want me to work extra hours. Is there any reason why they can't hire me to work two days a week and then I volunteer to work a third provided that we have a written agreement that the third day is completely voluntary and not part of my employment?
posted by metahawk to Law & Government (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have a definitive answer, but the Wage and Hour department in whatever State you are in likely forbids it on the basis that it would be an opening for less scrupulous companies to have part time employees who "volunteer" some time. Fact is, as much a pain in the ass as it is you probably are better off with a company that won't even entertain these ideas, even if it costs them free labor. We went through having to tell an employee that, no they could not just volunteer their time, even if they really really wanted to. It protects the employee, and the company form appearance of impropriety.
posted by edgeways at 10:01 PM on February 9, 2009

Hm, I volunteer for the nonprofit agency that I also work for. I volunteer in a totally different department, but I don't remember any special arrangements having to be made for me to volunteer. I work full-time, though. I'm in Texas, so maybe it's a state thing.
posted by fructose at 10:09 PM on February 9, 2009

One solution to this would be to make you a salaried employee, just at a very low fixed salary.
posted by anastasiav at 4:53 AM on February 10, 2009

One solution to this would be to make you a salaried employee, just at a very low fixed salary.

Being salaried doesn't change the company's exposure to labor law issues. Consider: suppose the minimum wage is $7.50 where you are. They hire you on as a salary of $120 a week, which is 16 hours * $7.50. If you work more than 16 hours, they are in effect paying you less than the minimum wage and are in violation of the law.

Check out the department of labor website for the US and for your state. They have a lot of information. There may well be an example of how you could make your scenario work. I can't imagine there's not some way for this type of situation to legally occur, it must be fairly common. The bookkeeper at the church volunteering on weekends, for example.

The signing of a contract might be enough- it's true that you can't sign away your rights. But in this case, I'm not so sure you would be doing that. If you and your employer agree on the terms, your rights aren't being violated. Especially in a not for profit business where there are customarily volunteers. This isn't a situation where there is an imbalance of power where they aren't saying "we want three days of work for two days of pay and you're fired if you don't take this offer", you are saying "I want to donate my time, and they want to pay me back for some of it."

Heck, call your State's DOL and see what they say.
posted by gjc at 5:37 AM on February 10, 2009

When I worked at a non-profit, the lawyers made a big deal about this being illegal, because how could someone be sure that you weren't being coerced into "volunteering" those extra hours? And, since you'd be doing your paid job while volunteering, your average wage per hour would end up well under the minimum, which is a no-no.
posted by Forktine at 6:18 AM on February 10, 2009

I have no idea if this is a solution, but could you get paid in the form of a stipend? Lots of people I know work at nonprofits for lots of hours for very low pay. As I understood it, since it's considered a stipend, even if it's weekly or whatever, the wage laws don't apply.
posted by iliketolaughalot at 8:39 PM on February 10, 2009

Best answer: I really think you should consider whether you're really helping by making it harder for them. They seem like they like you and want you around but also have a good sense of how to avoid labor law issues, so I would honor that and find something else to do with my free time. That said:

From an opinion letter issued by the Department of Labor:

[With certain amendments to the Fair Labor Standard Act] Congress sought to ensure that true volunteer activities were neither impeded nor discouraged. Congress, however, also wanted to minimize the potential for abuse or manipulation of the FLSA's minimum wage and overtime requirements in "volunteer" situations. To this end, Congress narrowly constrained the circumstances in which individuals may volunteer services to a public agency by which they are employed: (1) the individual may receive no compensation, or is paid only expenses, reasonable benefits or a nominal fee, and (2) the volunteer services may not be the same services as those which the individual is employed to perform for his or her employer.

This is an overview of volunteering in the public sector.

The key thing seems to be doing different duties in the two "jobs" -- one paid, the other unpaid. If it's the same duties, though, it's the same job. (You can do the same job if it's two different agencies, though.)
posted by dhartung at 11:02 PM on February 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. It looks like my original idea won't work. I thought about a stipend but couldn't find any information on what it takes to qualify as a stipend. Following dhartung's link, I found this opinion which sets a limit on stipends of 20% of normal wages for the job plus expense reimbursement.
posted by metahawk at 10:14 PM on February 11, 2009

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