We all know that workers’ compensation is the exclusive remedy in Wisconsin when one of our employees is injured in the course and scope of their work activities. But, what about volunteers? If your organization offers a Volunteer Time Off (VTO) policy, what happens if your employee gets injured while “on the VTO clock?” If your organization utilizes volunteers, what happens if a volunteer gets in a car accident or is injured while performing services on your behalf? There are several insurance considerations when it comes to volunteers and corporate volunteer programs – let’s explore a couple! **disclaimer, this blog should not be considered legal advice, please consult your employment attorney with fact-specific questions regarding your organization**
Volunteer Time Off
Alright, let’s talk about Volunteer Time Off (VTO) – if your organization offers employees the opportunity to volunteer in the community and stay on the clock, you had better be considering possible workers' compensation risks/implications. Given that you are paying the employee while they are performing the volunteer work, it is HIGHLY likely that an injury would be deemed compensable, should an injury occur. This could also be the case for company-sponsored volunteering/events, even if the time is not paid and participation is voluntary. Does your VTO policy require that each volunteer commitment receive management or HR approval? If not, this could help mitigate your risk and would give you the opportunity to deny any volunteer work that might be super risky, or is against the terms & conditions of your insurance policy.
One of the first questions to consider, if your organization utilizes the services of volunteers, is whether your volunteers are receiving ANY financial benefit for their services. While we typically think only about actual cash money being paid – does the volunteer receive free childcare while they are volunteering? Do they receive mileage reimbursements, free meals, or products/services? The more “remuneration” the volunteer receives in return for their services, the blurrier the lines become between employee and volunteer (especially regarding workers’ compensation).
What if the actions of a volunteer result in third-party property damage or injury to another member of the public, or even another volunteer? Does your organization have any financial liability? Many times volunteers are considered Agents of your organization, for liability purposes, if they are acting under the direction and control of your business. As such, your employee liability policies should be sure to include/cover Agents if you want to make sure you have coverage in the event of a claim. If you aren’t sure one way or the other – read through your existing policies and/or reach out to your insurer or agent/broker for guidance.
In closing, here are 5 tips to help protect your organization:
- Discuss any insurance issues with your employees and volunteers to make sure there is coverage in case of an unfortunate event;
- Always read your insurance policies to understand what may or may not be covered;
- Always review your insurance coverages at least annually with your insurance agent, or whenever there are significant changes in your business;
- Always make sure your internal and external policies and procedures align with your insurance coverages;
- Before conducting any large public event, always make sure you discuss coverages with your insurance agent and/or your insurer.
If you have questions, please reach out to your trusted advisors at Hausmann Group.