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Volunteer Loses Bid For Employee Classification

Nonprofit organizations depend heavily upon their volunteers.  What if a court were to hold that volunteers were in fact employees  entitled to minimum and overtime wages, meal and rest breaks, wage statements and other benefits required by law?  The impact of such a ruling would likely result in the demise of many nonprofit organizations and their programs.   

Ms. Laurie Woods worked as a volunteer for the American Film Institute for four days.  She later filed a putative class action against the AFI contending that she and other volunteers were actually employees.   While Ms. Woods did not dispute that some nonprofit organizations may use volunteer labor, she argued that only organization dedicated to helping the poor or the "needy or suffering" could do so.  The Court of Appeal disagreed finding that her position lacked "any legal support or policy justification".  Woods v. American Film Institute, 2021 Cal. App. LEXIS 1061.  

The Court of Appeal is, of course, correct - whether someone is a volunteer does not depend upon the social purpose (or lack thereof) of the recipient.  Rather, a person's status is the product of his or her own free will.  A "volunteer" is by definition someone who freely and willingly donates his or her services.  The word itself is derived from the Latin, voluntas, which means free-will.  

© 2010-2022 Allen Matkins Leck Gamble Mallory & Natsis LLP National Law Review, Volume XI, Number 354
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About this Author

Keith Paul Bishop, Corporate Transactions Lawyer, finance securities attorney, Allen Matkins Law Firm
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Keith Bishop works with privately held and publicly traded companies on federal and state corporate and securities transactions, compliance, and governance matters. He is highly-regarded for his in-depth knowledge of the distinctive corporate and regulatory requirements faced by corporations in the state of California.

While many law firms have a great deal of expertise in federal or Delaware corporate law, Keith’s specific focus on California corporate and securities law is uncommon. A former California state regulator of securities and financial institutions, Keith has decades of...

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