Can Volunteers File Workers' Comp Claims?

Are Volunteers Covered by Workers’ Compensation Claims?

Workers’ compensation is a form of payment available to employees who become injured or ill on the job and are unable to work. This benefit can be used to pay for your medical bills and lost wages. In return for receiving workers’ compensation, you must agree not to sue your employer for negligence.

The workers’ compensation insurance that your employer purchases for workplace accidents covers all regular employees, but what are the circumstances if you are a volunteer?

Workers’ Compensation Coverage for Volunteers

Typically, workers’ compensation insurance only covers paid employees. Since volunteer workers do not work for pay, they are not considered employees and are therefore not covered under workers’ compensation. This may not be ideal in certain high-risk volunteering environments where injuries and accidents are likely to occur, such as nursing homes, animal shelters, domestic work, and farms.

This is also not an ideal situation for employers, as without workers’ compensation coverage, volunteers retain their right to sue an “employer”, or whomever they report to for their volunteer work, for negligence and damages for their injuries. Employers should ask their insurance brokers if volunteers are covered under their plans, check out the specific workers’ compensation coverage laws for volunteers in their state, or consider paying their volunteers so they have employee status.

Filing for Workers’ Compensation as a Volunteer

Someone who has been injured while working as a volunteer may or may not be covered by the non-profit or organization’s WC insurance. State laws vary when it comes to worker’s compensation for volunteers. In Oregon and many other US states the public sector may be covered by worker’s compensation for volunteers.

Some states tend to include volunteers when it comes to working for state enterprises as it encourages people to offer their services on a voluntary basis such as the fire service or national parks. This is the situation in California. Of course there are some entities who take out worker’s comp. coverage deliberately for volunteers, whether they are required to do so or not. They do not want their volunteers to have a disadvantage when it comes to them being injured.

If you were hurt while volunteering and the injury was so severe that you believe you will be out of work for at least 12 months, you need to check to see if volunteers are covered under workers' compensation in that state.

If the state that you were volunteering in does not cover volunteers under workers' compensation laws, you do have a couple of options you can take.

You could apply for Volunteer Accident Medical Insurance, which provides some coverage for injury for someone doing volunteer work. You may want to talk to the organization that you were volunteering for to see if this is an option.

Steps to Take When Injured as a Volunteer

If you believe you are entitled to worker’s compensation because you know your employer is covered when you were injured as a volunteer you follow the same process as any paid worker for that employer. If you know you are not covered by worker’s compensation you won’t be entitled to make any WC claim at all. For example, if you were bitten by a dog when working for the ASPCA as a volunteer and you know the organization has worker’s comp. coverage for you, it is important you inform your supervisor as soon as possible following the incident. Even if you are partly to blame, as with paid work, you are still entitled to worker’s compensation as it is a no fault insurance.

Evidence Needed for a WC Claim as a Volunteer.

You will need to provide evidence that the dog bite took place on ASPCA premises. This evidence is vital for you to be awarded worker’s compensation. In some cases of injuries to volunteers you have to show that you were receiving some payment for your work. Assuming that you are covered for WC as a volunteer you will still need witnesses who will vouch the injury took place while you were working. Your physician can provide the details of your injury and show how much you have paid for medical treatment and how long you will need medical treatment.

A Volunteer Worker’s Compensation Example

New York State Workers’ Compensation for Volunteer Firefighters & Ambulance Workers

If you are a volunteer firefighter or ambulance worker and you are injured on the job in New York State you should be covered for worker’s compensation payments in the same way as paid employees. As long as the injury took place in the line of duty and you have the evidence to prove it. This is the case for ambulance volunteers who volunteer for an ambulance company which has an ongoing contract to provide ambulance services with a state authority.

Any volunteer ambulance company which does not hold a contract with a county, city, town, village or other political subdivision, may if they wish provide worker’s compensation coverage for their workers.When calculating an amount apart from medical; costs this is based on the ability of the volunteer to perform on a 5 to 6 day working week in a job that fits his/her capability.

There is no waiting period so the disability payments are paid from the 1stday of the injury. The maximum benefit paid weekly since 2010 is calculated based on New York State’s average weekly wage. This is in 2019 $1357. If a volunteer fire fighter or eligible volunteer ambulance worker suffers a permanent total disability in New York and s/he has permanently lost any chance of work worker’s compensation is paid indefinitely. If the injury does not involve a permanent disability benefits are paid for a maximum number of weeks calculated by the claimant’s loss of earning capacity so this is 525 weeks for the loss of wage earning capacity which is more than 95%. If the loss of earning capacity is just 15%, 225 weeks of disability payments will be paid.

All states are different when it comes to worker’s compensation coverage for volunteers. State entities tend to treat volunteers in the same way as paid employees while non-profit entities choose whether to provide worker’s comp. coverage for their volunteers.

Coverage Exceptions for Volunteers

Although in a majority of cases, volunteers are not covered by workers’ compensation, there are some exceptions to this rule, and they vary from state to state.

Most states see any form of compensation as an established worker relationship – and this doesn’t have to be in the form of money. This means that a volunteer who gets any sort of “perk”, such as food, shelter, prizes, free clothing or items, or other benefits, can be seen as “paid” for their work and therefore eligible for workers’ compensation.

Another exception could be interns and practicum students. These are workers who do the same type of employment as those around them, yet for the benefit of experience, and sometimes college credit, instead of monetary payment. In these cases, the work experience is seen as a benefit, and they could be granted employee status and workers’ compensation coverage. Note that if this type of work is part of a school program, the intern or student may already be covered for an accident by the insurance policy at their institution.

Getting Help With a Workers' Compensation Claim

If you are a volunteer who was injured at your place of work, you should always hire an attorney to help you with your case. A lawyer can determine if you are eligible for workers’ compensation in your state and help you get started on filing a claim. On the other hand, a lawyer can help you file a personal injury claim against your employer if you were injured due to their negligence.

Either way, you should get the assistance of a lawyer to make sure you have the best chance of getting the compensation you need and deserve for your injuries.