The Department of Labor (DOL) recently issued an opinion letter addressing whether an employer has to pay non-exempt employees for the time employees spend volunteering at an employer-sponsored volunteer program. The short answer: no, as long as the employer complies with certain criteria, as discussed below.
In its opinion letter, the DOL considered a voluntary employer-sponsored community service program that provided a monetary reward to the employees who, at the end of the year, made the greatest community impact. The DOL concluded that employee participation in the employer’s volunteer program did not count as hours worked under the FLSA. In reaching its determination, the DOL noted that employee participation in the program was voluntary and that employees were not adversely impacted if they chose not to participate. Further, the employer did not guarantee a bonus for employee participation, as bonuses only went to the group that made the greatest community impact and were at the discretion of the employee’s supervisor.
So, if your company has a company-sponsored volunteer program, or is thinking of starting one, know that under the FLSA, in appropriate circumstances it may not need to compensate non-exempt employees for their time spent volunteering. The employee participation must be entirely optional, occur outside of normal work hours and non-participating employees cannot suffer any adverse consequences.