Spoiler Alert 1: This guide cannot lay out exactly how to assemble a legally sound intern or volunteer program because the law itself is uncertain. Most folks believe that the law is black and white—all they need to do is find out what the law is and follow it. In legal reality, that’s not always the case. What should the farmer do to move forward? The first step is to learn the facts, which this guide provides. The second step is to carefully weigh the factors and make a personal decision. It’s not an easy process, but it’s a valuable one for every farm considering interns and volunteers.
Many farmers approach uncertainty, legal or otherwise, by weighing the potential costs against the potential benefits of taking on a level of risk. This can apply to uncertain legal situations as well. When thinking about the potential costs, what would a legal enforcement action under a “worst case scenario” mean for the farm? What if a volunteer gets injured while working on the farm and the farmer becomes responsible for hospital bills and has to pay penalties for not carrying workers’ compensation? Aside from the financial implications, what about all the worry and fear of such a scenario happening? As for the benefits, what cost savings does the farm achieve by not having to obtain workers’ compensation or pay minimum wage if required? What about the emotional stress of not being able to make payroll? For other farms, the sense of purpose and community that comes from integrating interns and volunteers into your farm is a significant benefit.
In the end, the right risk management strategy regarding interns and volunteers is a personal decision that depends on you and your farm. Your own financial, emotional, and business considerations all factor into the appropriate strategy for you. This resource can help you understand and assess those factors.