Who is a volunteer

Who is a volunteer?

A volunteer is a person who donates labor to another by their own free choice. Generally, the volunteer doesn’t receive anything of value in exchange for the service — not money, trade of products or services, or anything else of monetary value.

When is a volunteer a “covered worker”?

If a volunteer receives something of monetary value in exchange for work, they are probably a “covered worker” who is entitled by law to workers’ compensation coverage. For state agencies, a volunteer is a covered worker with medical aid coverage.

Maintenance and reimbursed expenses

Your business or organization may provide volunteers with maintenance and reimbursement for necessary actual expenses. “Maintenance” includes things such as meals and transient sleeping quarters while performing assigned or authorized volunteer duties. However, if a person receives material, monetary, or other value in excess of the expenses, they may be considered a covered worker.

Stipends

If your business or organization claims someone as a volunteer and gives the person a “stipend”, the amount and its relation to the work performed must be evaluated to determine whether the “stipend” is maintenance and reimbursement or compensation for labor provided. Organizations sometimes will call something a “stipend” when it could be considered payment for services provided by the volunteer.

Gifts of appreciation

Gifts of appreciation must be evaluated to determine whether they are maintenance or reimbursement, a token of appreciation, or compensation for labor provided.

Unpaid job training

Unpaid job training received with the promise of a future paid job with a specific employer not in connection with a school-approved program is considered value in exchange for work performed.

If you have questions about volunteer status, contact our Determinations Unit at Determinations@Lni.wa.gov for a determination of coverage.

Who can cover volunteers

Who can elect to cover volunteers?

In Washington, some organizations may choose to purchase workers’ compensation coverage for volunteers, which only covers medical costs. Volunteer coverage does not include the other usual benefits of workers’ compensation, such as wage replacement, vocational and retraining costs, permanent partial disability payments, or death benefits. Volunteer coverage is also known as “medical aid only” coverage.

Organizations that may elect to buy volunteer coverage (medical aid only) include

  • Cities, counties, towns, special districts (such as public utility districts), municipal corporations, or other political subdivisions.
  • Employers with student volunteers enrolled in public and private K–12 schools and schools of higher education. For more details, see Student Volunteers and Unpaid Students tab or our Student Volunteers and Workers' Compensation Coverage (F213-023-000) fact sheet.
  • Private non-profit charities that are able to demonstrate they qualify under Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rules as a 501(c)(3) exempt organization. Under IRS rules, churches automatically qualify. All other non-profit charities should have a letter from the IRS saying they qualify.

Exceptions

  • State government agencies must provide all of their registered volunteers with volunteer coverage
    • Workers’ compensation coverage for volunteer emergency services workers is not available. The Department of Emergency Services administers these volunteer activities, which include but are not limited to: mountain search and rescue, explorer scout trackers, clean up after volcanic eruptions, sandbagging during floods. The local jurisdiction, usually the sheriff’s office, registers these volunteers and typically issues an identification card to the emergency worker volunteer.

  • Volunteer firefighters are not covered by L&I and are covered under the Volunteer Firefighters' Relief and Pension Fund. Find more information at the Board for Volunteer Firefighters and Reserve Officers
  • Law enforcement agencies may choose to elect full coverage or medical aid only volunteer coverage. All volunteers must be covered with the same type of coverage

How to start coverage

To elect volunteer coverage, you must submit an Application for Elective Coverage of Excluded Employment (F213-112-000). Coverage starts at 12:01 a.m. the day after we receive your completed form, or you may choose a future effective date.

If your business or organization elects to cover volunteers, you must:

  • Cover all your volunteers and notify them of their medical aid only coverage.
  • Choose whether to report all volunteers based on actual hours or based on 100 hours per volunteer per calendar year.
  • Report and pay premiums for either actual volunteer hours worked, or for 100 hours per volunteer per calendar year.
  • Create auditable records of all volunteers and keep these records for 3 full calendar years from the date you reported the worker’s hours. Records must include:
    • Names and Social Security numbers.
    • Registration and acceptance of each person as a volunteer for your organization.
    • Beginning and end date of volunteer service.
    • Applicable risk classifications (likely 6901 or 6906).
    • Actual hours worked, or your decision to report 100 hours per volunteer per calendar year.
    • For student volunteers and unpaid students:
      • Proof of registration showing the student's current enrollment in school or an institution of higher education.
      • Authorization from the school or institution of higher education for the student's participation in the school's volunteer or unpaid work-based learning program.

How to cancel coverage

If your business or organization chooses to cancel volunteer coverage, you must notify all volunteers that you are cancelling coverage. The cancellation is effective 30 days after we receive your written notice of cancellation.

To cancel volunteer coverage, you may use the Cancellation of Elective Coverage for Excluded Employments (F213-005-00) or another written form of notification.

Who can't cover volunteers

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 tab or our Student Volunteers and Workers' Compensation Coverage (F213-023-000) fact sheet.

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.
  2. No compensation is offered to the volunteer worker beyond maintenance and reimbursement of expenses.
  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.
  4. The volunteer is not a member of a vulnerable or penal population. Examples of people from a vulnerable or penal populations 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
Examples

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 spouse 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 within the third degree by blood or 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 within the third degree by blood or marriage. 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 covered workers. In addition to workers' compensation insurance coverage requirements, other employer requirements such as minimum wage, unemployment insurance, and federal taxes may apply.

If you have questions about volunteer status, contact our Determinations Unit at Determinations@Lni.wa.gov for a determination of coverage.

Student volunteers and unpaid students

Student volunteers, unpaid students and workers' compensation coverage

L&I offers medical aid only coverage for:

  • Qualified student volunteers in private and public K–12 schools.
  • Qualified student volunteers in private and public institutions of higher education.
  • Unpaid students participating in a school-sponsored, unpaid work-based learning program.

What is the difference between a student volunteer and an unpaid student?

Student volunteer Unpaid student
Enrollment Enrolled in a public or private K-12 school or institution of higher education Enrolled in a public or private institution of higher education, not in a K-12 school
Authorization of program Participates as a volunteer under a program authorized by the school Participates in an unpaid work-based learning program authorized by the school, including school-sponsored cooperative education, clinical experiences, and internship programs
Wages and remuneration Performs duties for employer without wages. Student volunteers in K-12 schools may receive credit toward graduation. May receive maintenance and reimbursement for actual expenses incurred in performing assigned duties (not considered wages) Performs duties for employer without wages. Receives credit toward completing school program, certification, or degree. May receive maintenance and reimbursement for actual expenses incurred in performing assigned duties (not considered wages)

What about internships?

Internships mean different things to different people. If you have:

  • Paid interns, you must report them in your business' risk classification.

  • Unpaid interns working for credit toward completing a school program, certification or degree in return for services, they may be unpaid students. Each scenario will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

Who pays the L&I premium?

State fund employers who have elected coverage for their student volunteers and/or unpaid students (participating in a school-sponsored training program) pay L&I premiums. Schools do not pay the premium unless the student is volunteering for the school.

Self-insured employers do not pay premiums. However, they agree to pay the costs of a qualifying claim filed by a student volunteer or unpaid student.

Reporting volunteer hours

Reporting volunteer hours for workers' compensation coverage

How to start coverage

See Who Can Cover Volunteers tab

Report volunteers for medical aid only coverage using one of the following methods:

  • 100 hours per volunteer per calendar year (100-hour cap), or
  • Actual hours worked for all volunteers each quarter

You must use the same method to report all volunteers.

Who can choose the 100-hour cap reporting method?

You may use the 100-hour cap method for reporting in:

  • Classification 6901 for volunteers or student volunteers
  • Classification 6906 for volunteer law enforcement

This includes state agencies that are required to provide volunteer coverage, as well as organizations that may elect optional volunteer coverage.

How and when can I choose the 100-hour cap reporting method?

If you have either classification 6901 or 6906 active on your account you will choose your method for reporting volunteers on your first quarterly report of the year, either the 100 hours cap or actual hours.

If I choose the 100-hour cap reporting method, how and when will I report my volunteers?

Every calendar year you report 100 hours for each volunteer in the first quarter they volunteer that year. Don’t report the same volunteer’s 100 hours more than once in a calendar year.

You must use the same method of reporting for all volunteers for the whole calendar year. However, you may choose each calendar year whether to report actual hours or the 100-hour cap method. This means you may report one year using the 100-hour cap method, and the next year you may choose to report actual hours.

What if I selected the 100-hour reporting method, but I have a new volunteer who starts on December 15?

You must report 100 hours for that volunteer for that calendar year.

What do I need to do if my organization elects to cover volunteers?

If your business or organization elects to cover volunteers, you must:

  • Cover all your volunteers and notify them of their medical aid only coverage.
  • Choose whether to report all volunteers based on actual hours or based on 100 hours per volunteer per calendar year.
  • Report and pay premiums for either actual volunteer hours worked, or for 100 hours per volunteer per calendar year.
  • Create auditable records of all volunteers and keep these records for 3 full calendar years from the date you reported the worker’s hours. Records must include:
    • Names and Social Security numbers.
    • Registration and acceptance of each person as a volunteer for your organization.
    • Beginning and end date of volunteer service.
    • Applicable risk classifications (likely 6901 or 6906).
    • Actual hours worked, or your decision to report 100 hours per volunteer per calendar year.
    • For student volunteers and unpaid students:
      • Proof of registration showing the student's current enrollment in a K-12 school or an institution of higher education.
      • Authorization from the school or institution of higher education for the student's participation in the school's volunteer or unpaid work-based learning program.