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Volunteering by public employees must follow FLSA rules

New York public employees covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act's wage and hour rules should be careful that any volunteer work they undertake for their employer doesn't run afoul of those guidelines. Many volunteer situations are not allowed under FLSA's rules for severance, commissions and bonuses. The activities not included could result in the employee volunteer's organization being cited for a failure to pay for work performed. This is intended for the protection of both workers and employers.

Wage and hour regulations are specific and strongly enforced by the FLSA. Employees are permitted to volunteer for the organization that employs them, but experts recommend that extra care be taken to ensure that the volunteer activity qualifies as being done for civic, charitable or humanitarian reasons. In fact, it is required that such volunteers meet the rules for public employees and for employees of private companies.

At heart is the issue of what work is "compensable." In general, public employees may not perform volunteer functions that exactly match the work they do for pay. For example, a police officer would not be allowed to act in that capacity as a volunteer for the city or other entity paying for that officer's law enforcement work. What would be allowed under FLSA rules is that officer volunteering as the coach of a Little League team. Doing so meets the criteria for unpaid volunteer work by a public employee -- it is done for reasons of civil benefit and does not overlap with the police officer's paid duties.

Whether involving volunteer activity or some other aspect of wage and hour regulations, workers who suspect violations of FLSA rules may find helpful the assistance of an attorney well versed in all aspects of labor law. Legal issues could include disputes over wages, commissions, bonuses or tips.

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