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Workers' compensation is for paid workers who contribute to the fund, so what happens when a volunteer gets hurt on the job-not-job? Who will pay for injury?
We can't all devote our lives to public service, which is why many people do good by volunteering. But before you give or take free labor, consider liability for injury.
State laws vary, and there are exceptions, but in most cases volunteers' injuries are not covered by public workers' compensation funds. But there are other options, like private insurance of course, and some places may require volunteers to have independent coverage.
If you are considering interning or volunteering for an organization, or you're taking on free labor, check your insurance first and consider alternatives for coverage. An intern who is a student may be covered through a school policy or parents, for example, or an individual may have sufficiently extensive coverage.
But don't assume that donating time means the organization will be liable for any injury you experience on the job-not-job. Look at your policy. Speak to your insurer's representative. Ensure that you can afford to give or receive free labor because the cost of injury may be high without the right coverage.
A Case Study
Volunteer firefighters in Montana may soon prove the exception to the general rule that workers' compensation is just for paid workers who get hurt, according to the Independent Record. A bill in that state proposes that volunteers who risk serious injury fighting fires be provided with insurance.
Costs would be subsidized for the smallest fire departments with revenue from taxes. There is opposition to the bill, mostly because it means more money coming out of state coffers.
Some volunteer work is seriously hazardous, like that of the Montana firefighters, and ignoring the possibility of injury is not an option. Just because work is unpaid does not mean it's safe, obviously, and even volunteering at the library can be a hazard. A serious injury is a financial drain, so be smart and think ahead.
If it's already too late and you have been injured -- as a volunteer or in another context -- speak to a lawyer. Many personal injury attorneys consult for free or a minimal fee and will be happy to discuss your case.