Volunteers are a hallmark of many community-focused farms. Having a cadre of locals who are eager to help out on the farm shows just how important farms are to communities. But, the law is clear on this subject: For-profit businesses may not have volunteers. Anyone who does the work of a for-profit farm is an employee, and employment laws apply (unless, of course, another classification like independent contractor or intern fits the situation).
This is because the law defines an employee as someone who is permitted to work for the business. A person allowed to work for a farm thus becomes an employee and their employer is subject to employment laws concerning them— including minimum wage, workers’ compensation, and payroll tax requirements.
Securing the benefits of community involvement while managing legal risk is easier with clear information. We offer pointers in our Farmers Legal Guide to Intern and Volunteer Programs (32pgs), and we recommend exploring it in detail. Nonprofit farms and those operated by state or local governments have much greater latitude to use volunteers. That freedom isn’t unlimited, however, and this guide discusses when a nonprofit volunteer crosses the line into an employee.
We also walk through the issues in our Advanced Employment Law Course, an online, comprehensive experience that helps farmers understand and apply farm employment law to their specific situations.
If reading isn’t your preferred learning style, check out these other resources: Building a Legally Sound Intern and Volunteer Program (115min) and our podcast episode Getting into Gleaning (46mins),
New to farm employment law, not yet a member, or looking for an overview of issues? Try our Hiring Farm Workers Basics (6pgs), an FAQ-style resource that answers farmers’ most typical questions about hiring workers for the farm (available to members and non-members alike). This resource will help you discover what you didn’t realize you didn’t know. It will also direct you to more detailed resources on the issues relevant to your farm.