Are Volunteers Covered Under Chapter 287, RSMO?

By Jennifer Y. Weller, VBM Attorney

Article written May 15, 2023

In general, volunteers are not covered as an employee under Chapter 287, RSMo.  Specifically, per §287.090.1(4) volunteers of a tax-exempt organization which operates under the standards of Section 501(c)(3) of the federal Internal Revenue Code, who are not paid wages, but provide services purely on a charitable and voluntary basis are not covered under Chapter 287, RSMo.  If a volunteer is injured while providing services to that organization, they will not be entitled to any workers’ compensation benefits such as medical treatment, temporary total disability benefits and/or permanent partial disability benefits.  The organization can, however, elect to provide workers’ compensation coverage for their volunteers. 

What if the organization does not operate under the standards of Section 501(c)(3) of the federal Internal Revenue Code, will any volunteers for that organization be covered under Chapter 287, RSMo?  §287.030.1 defines an “employer” to mean every person, partnership, association, corporation, limited liability partnership or company, trustee, receiver, the legal representatives of a deceased employer, and every other person, including any person or corporation operating a railroad and any public service corporation, using the service of another for pay (emphasis added).  If an organization utilizes the services of another without pay, then under this section, that organization would not be an “employer”.  Also, per §287.020.1, an “employee” is defined to mean every person in the service of any employer under any contract of hire, express or implied, oral or written, or under any appointment or election, including executive officers of corporations.  The word “employee” shall not include any person performing services for board, lodging, aid, or sustenance received from any religious, charitable, or relief organization.

What if an employee of ABC Company volunteers in another capacity for that same company in their free time, will they be covered by ABC Company’s workers’ compensation coverage?  Assume employee works as an accountant Monday through Friday for ABC Company.  On Sunday, Employee volunteers his time for ABC Company in another capacity and not for pay.  If, on Sunday, ABC Company is using the service of another, in this case Employee, without pay, then arguably ABC Company would not be an employer of Employee during that time.  However, since Employee is an employee for ABC Company Monday through Friday, could an Administrative Law Judge find Employee was, in fact, acting as an employee of ABC Company while performing those services on Sunday?  Yes, I think it is possible for an ALJ to find an employment relationship existed between Employee and ABC Company on Sunday and that the following facts would be considered: Was Employee paid hourly or salary?  How similar were the volunteer activities to the normal job duties performed by Employee during his employment?  These facts, in addition to all facts about the volunteer activities, will be considered by an ALJ when determining if Employee was truly acting as a volunteer or as an employee and whether he would be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits for any injury sustained.

Are volunteer firefighters covered under Chapter 287 RSMo? Volunteer firefighters are covered under §287.243.2(10).  A volunteer firefighter for purposes of this section is a person having principal employment other than as a firefighter but who is carried on the rolls of a regularly constituted fire department.  A volunteer firefighter does not mean an individual who volunteers assistance without being regularly enrolled as a firefighter.

In summary, volunteers are not generally covered by Chapter 287, RSMo but there are exceptions.  If you have questions about whether a “volunteer” would be covered by the Missouri workers’ compensation law, please contact our office at 573-777-4488.   |   (573) 777-4488  |