View Full Version : How do volunteers work?

01-27-2012, 07:46 AM
I haven't yet opened any doors... am still in the planning stages. That said, in general conversation with an tax accountant friend of mine, the notion of volunteer labor came up. She told me that it's not actually legal to have volunteer labor. I know, though, that people volunteer at breweries and such all the time.

Any of you out there already operating a brewery have volunteers and if so, how do you handle them (paperwork wise) so that they're on the up and up with the various state and federal tax/labor agencies?

01-27-2012, 07:51 AM
a good article on this issue i just found:


sounds like short of getting class credit (intern) - it's not okay to have volunteers?

(which sucks because i have people that want to volunteer to help with my venture!)

Scott M
01-27-2012, 08:24 AM
So, is it OK to teach those "volunteers" a "basic brewing" course while they help produce your product?

Today we cover ingredients and recipe formulation, brewing science, water management, wort production, and yeast handling! ......etc.

01-27-2012, 08:38 AM
it sounds like that only flys if they're actually getting some kind of school credit for it.

don't get me wrong, i'm not trying to be a killjoy here. i want to be able to have volunteers.

i'm just sayin. at this point, i can't see how i (or anyone else) can unless the person is getting school credit.

01-28-2012, 05:22 AM
A much bigger issue than compliance with FLSA is your workman's comp. What happens if a volunteer gets hurt in your brewery? It could be as minor as a dropped keg breaking a foot. I would be willing to bet that an insurer would not cover a volunteer.

It's probably best to limit volunteering to pouring at festivals, particularly those that benefit a non-profit.

Scott M
01-28-2012, 09:55 AM
They can sign a release stating they are aware of the hazards associated with brewing. If you are going to use volunteers to brew your beer, talk to a lawyer first.

I'm sure it can be done.

01-29-2012, 07:41 AM
Sure, you could draft a release but they could still sue you for negligence if they have a medical bill they couldn't pay. Not sure about your state but here in TN there are loads of billboards up featuring lawyers who would love to take the case of an injured volunteer. Bottom line is a brewery is an inherently dangerous place and I'm not sure it is worth the risk of having volunteers around and having someone hurt. Nobody wins if you are in court defending yourself.

Scott M
01-29-2012, 06:01 PM
Don't know how the State handles volunteers, but this City is soliciting volunteers to maintain its parks because of financial cutbacks. I'm sure they are not looking at the issues you are talking about here, maybe they should?

01-30-2012, 08:04 AM
my guess is that the parks office would be considered a non-profit (though that's arguable obviously) and, therefore, volunteers are acceptable (in terms of taxes and such).

Capt. Bob
01-31-2012, 05:33 PM
I could name at least 10 breweries, including my own, that use and depend on volunteers.
"Pay" can be beer. I use 8 to 10 volunteers for bottling. I feed them lunch and they leave with 6-750ml bottles of what they have bottled as "pay" providing the "Tangible benefit" described in the article. The retail value of the 6 bottles is about $60 for less than 5 hours work. No drinking on the job even though they are volunteers. That is reserved for after the job is finished, at which point, they are patrons and not volunteers.

01-31-2012, 06:18 PM
And there's the problem again. Are you paying payroll taxes, workers comp premiums, unemployment insurance premiums, etc. on these employees?

If you were to argue that they are independent contractors, then they should be paying taxes on their compensation, but that becomes their problem. I doubt they would meet the requirements of contractors, however. Unless, that is you agree to pay them for bottling services, they show up, use their own equipment, and are unsupervised by you or your staff. Basically, they're mobile bottlers.

Yes, lots of breweries use volunteers. Unfortunately that doesn't make it legal.

Capt. Bob
02-03-2012, 09:54 PM
[QUOTE=BierkoenigYes, lots of breweries use volunteers. Unfortunately that doesn't make it legal.[/QUOTE]

Actually, it does make it legal.
Here's the actual verbage from the US Dept. of Labor.

(b) Congress did not intend to discourage or impede volunteer activities undertaken for civic, charitable, or humanitarian purposes, but expressed its wish to prevent any manipulation or abuse of minimum wage or overtime requirements through coercion or undue pressure upon individuals to “volunteer” their services.

(c) Individuals shall be considered volunteers only where their services are offered freely and without pressure or coercion, direct or implied, from an employer.

(d) An individual shall not be considered a volunteer if the individual is otherwise employed by the same public agency to perform the same type of services as those for which the individual proposes to volunteer.

Pretty cut and dry. Unless your volunteers are already employed by your brewery in another capacity, or are "coerced" into working for free, they are freely volunteering their services.
Most of the laws refer to "public agencies". Unless your brewery is owned by the Government...it ain't public.
Also...volunteers are not covered by workers comp. They get hurt, it's on their tab, unless you want to cover their expenses. They may sue, but the likelyhood of them winning is nil. They volunteered.

The article quoted above is just that...an article.

02-06-2012, 09:34 AM
i'm no lawyer... but i'm pretty sure taking one line item out of an entire law and using that as argument in your favor as to why you're not violating the entire law is not a good idea.

i read that same verbage. out of contact, that would indeed suggest it's okay. taken in the context of the entirety of the law, it's not. indeed, that entire law/code/whatever is talking about non-profits.

02-06-2012, 10:35 AM
I agree with apox, I also am no lawyer, but you should carefully make sure you're not breaking laws. I think the idea instead of a "volunteer", an "Intern" is more appropriate, I just found this document that the feds state how you can determine if the person fits as an "intern" and even this is just a guide to help you get started:


Seems specifically that you should almost be slightly impeded by the intern, but the goal is to teach them, so they can get a job in the industry, possibly your own but not mandated. So ... that's something else to look into. I work in IT right now and we quite often use interns, but they're focused on OJT type work that is ancillary to the goals of their department. It does help side level tools be built out but not the main part of the product that team is required to deliver. This gives them time to focus on the main goal and keep these small side projects under someone else, but also requires a bit more hands on work to keep them going since they're quite new to the process. (college students or seniors in HS in this case, as its software development)

You basically could get a person that had 0 brewing experience and have them intern with you for free, but be careful you do understand all the associated requirements etc.

Just make sure you talk with someone that is a local expert in this type of thing, either local government officials or someone with labor law legal expertise.. Cover your butt!