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Can I Get Workers’ Compensation as a Volunteer?

The general rule in the State of California is that an employer’s workers’ compensation insurance covers all employees of the business entity, even if there is only one employee. If an employee is injured during the course and scope of their employment by a foreseeable risk of that employment, he or she becomes eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. In the context of volunteers who are not actual employees, the general rule is that workers’ compensation insurance coverage is optional. There is no law in California that requires a business entity to insure volunteers for purposes of workers’ compensation coverage. That translates into the harsh rule of volunteers being responsible for their own injuries and the consequences of those injuries when an accident occurs during an activity that they’re volunteering at.

Most volunteer activity in and around Sacramento takes place with not-for-profit corporations. Pursuant to section 3363.5 of the California Labor Code, those volunteers can be given employee status regardless of the fact that they’re not being compensated for their work. It might operate in the best interests of a not-for-profit entity to designate volunteers as employees. Here are the three most common ways of doing that:

  • The board of directors of the entity makes a written declaration that volunteers are employees when they’re in the performance of volunteer activities.
  • When prior to the time of a volunteer’s injury, the entity has purchased accident and liability insurance coverage.
  • A resolution is adopted by the board of directors of the entity to provide workers’ compensation benefits to volunteers, and the state fund is notified accordingly.

If a volunteer receives a waiver of workers compensation benefits for signature, that’s a likely indication that the entity he or she would be volunteering for might not have workers’ compensation coverage for volunteers. Assuming that’s the case, an injured person can seek compensation for injuries that were suffered while volunteering by filing a civil personal injury lawsuit directly against the entity that he or she was volunteer for. Personal injury cases contemplate damages that can be far in excess of those allowed by California’s workers’ compensation laws, so it might advisable for an entity to have workers’ compensation coverage for volunteers.

If you were injured while volunteering feel free to contact us for a free consultation and we’ll be happy to let you know what your options are, offer you advice or at least point you in the right direction.