Can Employees “Volunteer” To Work For Free?
Updated: May 29
Can An Employee “Volunteer” Their Time For Work-Related Tasks?
When employees feel like they are getting behind at work, they may want to “volunteer” their time to get caught-up by working off-the-clock. Regardless of an employee’s reason for needing to “volunteer” their time, this post will briefly discuss an employer’s obligation to compensate the employee for this “volunteered” time.
What is “Volunteer” Time?
For every hour an employee works, they are entitled to compensation. When an employee attempts to “volunteer” their time to complete work-related tasks, they typically do so off-the-clock. As a result, Employers do not compensate the employee properly. Common types of “voluntary” work include, attending meetings, catching up on impending or past-due projects, emailing or calling clients, or responding to a supervisor’s emails or calls. Despite the belief that the employee is “volunteering” this time, in most circumstances, an employer is obligated to compensate the employee for this time as it is for the employer’s benefit.
The answer depends on whether the Employer knew or had reason to know that an employee was completing off-the-clock work.
The California Labor Code covers all employers in California regardless of size, type, or industry. Typically, an employee must be compensated when the employer has authorized their work or where the employer knew or should have known that work was being performed by the employee. When an employee attempts to “volunteer” their time, liability for non-payment of wages will depend on whether the employer knew or should have known that the employee was working.
Generally, time spent working on tasks not requested by the employer, but still allowed, is considered hours worked and is compensable because the employer knew or should have known that the employee was working and the employer is benefiting from the work completed. However, if an employee has completed work without authorization and the employer would have no reason to know of the work, these hours might not be compensable.
Note: If an employee completes unauthorized work off-the-clock, the employer may discipline them. However, the employer still cannot refuse to compensate them for the time they had already worked.
If An Employee Has Worked Off-The-Clock, How Can They Seek Compensation?
There are very strict time limits to bring an action to recover owed wages. Typically, an employee has 3-years to bring a claim for unpaid wages and related penalties, but this time may be shortened or extended based on individualized circumstances. If you or someone you know was terminated or quit and you had to wait, or are still waiting, to get paid, you should promptly seek an attorney to discuss your possibilities.
Disclaimer: All materials have been prepared for general information purposes only to permit you to learn more about Lansdown Law, its services, and experience. The information presented is not legal advice, is not to be acted on as such, may not be current and is subject to change without notice.