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.