The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) stated in a recent opinion letter that employee participation in an employer’s optional volunteer program is not considered hours worked under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) – even if the employer awards a bonus to certain participating employees – provided the program is charitable and voluntary. DOL also said the FLSA permits an employer to use an employee’s time spent volunteering as a factor when calculating a bonus without needing to treat volunteer time as hours worked, so long as the volunteering is optional and doesn’t have an adverse impact on the employee’s working conditions or employment prospects. Volunteerism has been linked to larger corporate initiatives to improve brand image as part of corporate social responsibility efforts. By offering paid volunteer hours or otherwise encouraging employee-led projects in local communities, employers may be able to create team-building opportunities and improve engagement. Employers might need to exercise caution when launching volunteer programs, however, as the DOL makes it clear that the FLSA does not permit employees to volunteer services to for-profit employers.
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