Volunteers and Workers' Comp Coverage


Who can’t elect to cover volunteers?

Non-profits that aren’t eligible for IRS 501(c)(3) status

Workers’ compensation coverage is not available for volunteers of non-profit organizations that are not classified as charitable organizations as defined under Internal Revenue Service 501(c)(3). Examples include:

  • Homeowner’s associations
  • Chambers of commerce
  • Industry associations
  • Fraternal organizations and clubs, such as the Eagles, Elks, Lions, Mountaineers, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW)

For-profit businesses

Workers’ compensation coverage is not available to volunteers of for-profit businesses unless the volunteer is a qualified student volunteer or qualified unpaid student in a school-sponsored, unpaid work-based learning program. For more details, see Student volunteers and unpaid students or our Student Volunteers and Workers' Compensation Coverage fact sheet (F213-023-000).

Otherwise, for-profit businesses are presumed not to have volunteers. In some limited circumstances, L&I may recognize an individual as a volunteer who is exempt from workers’ compensation requirements when the business can show:

  1. Both parties intended volunteer status in advance of the work, and
  2. No compensation is offered to the volunteer worker beyond maintenance and reimbursement expenses, and
  3. The work is similarly advantageous to both the business and volunteer, such as in circumstances where goodwill is being provided by the volunteer in an emergency on a temporary basis, and
  4. The volunteer is not a member of a vulnerable or penal population. Examples of people from a vulnerable or penal population include, but are not limited to:
    • Members of a work release population.
    • People in substance abuse treatment.
    • Economically disadvantaged individuals who are long-term jobless or homeless.

Volunteer status at for-profit businesses can include situations such as:

  • Limited work that constitutes a grant of professional or personal goodwill, such as a close family friend who volunteers to assist in a small grocery store for a short time while the owner’s wife is sick.
  • Work that constitutes a hobby activity.
  • Adult family members working at a family business in emergency situations on a temporary basis. These family members must be related by blood within the third degree of marriage. This includes a person and their spouse, children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, parents, grandparents, great grandparents, aunts and uncles. Cousins are not related by blood within the third degree. Legal adoptions or step-relatives are considered as if genetically related.

Note: Each situation will be reviewed in full context of the relevant facts to determine status. If workers do not meet the criteria above, they are presumed to be employees. In addition to workers' compensation insurance coverage requirements, other employer requirements such as minimum wage, unemployment insurance, social security, and Medicare may apply.

If you have questions about volunteer status, contact our Workers' Comp Coverage Determinations Unit at Determinations@Lni.wa.gov or 206-835-1140 for a determination of coverage.

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