The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) provided some clarity when it comes to employer-sponsored volunteer programs.
The DOL said in an opinion letter issued on March 14 that employee participation in an employer’s optional volunteer program is not considered hours worked under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
Assuming the program is charitable and voluntary, this principle applies even if the employer awards a bonus to certain participating employees.
The letter was in response to an employer’s questions about its optional community service program, in which employees perform activities either sponsored by the employer or chosen by the employee. The DOL determined that based on the facts provided by the employer, the employee participation is charitable and voluntary.
“Your client does not require participation in the program and does not control or direct volunteer work,” the letter said. “It does not appear that the employees suffer adverse consequences in their working conditions or employment prospects if they do not participate in the volunteer activities — such as, for example, by receiving a monetary penalty or by being disqualified from participating in a bonus program.”
The agency also approved the employer’s use of a mobile device app to track participating employees’ volunteering time for the purpose of determining which team would win the monetary award. However, if the employer to use the app to direct or control worker's volunteer activities, time spent following such instructions would count as hours worked under FLSA, the agency said.