If or when volunteer workers get hurt on the job, many owners or operators falsely believe that these individuals will be covered by workers’ comp. The sad fact of the matter is that in most cases and states volunteers are not covered by workers’ compensation since they are not paid employees.

In the state of Wisconsin, volunteers do not receive workers’ compensation if they are hurt while volunteering. Let’s explore this issue as it pertains to Wisconsin law more thoroughly.

Let’s explore this issue as it pertains to Wisconsin law more thoroughly.

The Wisconsin Workers’ Compensation Insurance Act

This law on the books in Wisconsin does not provide workers’ compensation benefits to volunteers. The definition of volunteer is also applied to individuals who work for a non-profit organization and receive money or gifts as compensation where the value does not total more than ten dollars per week. While volunteers cannot receive workers’ comp benefits under the Wisconsin Workers’ Compensation Insurance Act for any injury or illness incurred on the job; the law does not have jurisdiction over any other forms of aid that a volunteer may receive due to their injury or illness.

An individual who volunteers for a non-profit organization that is eligible for exemption or is currently exempt from paying Federal income taxes under the current Federal tax code, and receives gifts or payments of no more than ten dollars a week will not be considered an employee under the Wisconsin Workers’ Compensation Insurance Act unless the non-profit chooses to cover that individual on their plan.

While the law regarding volunteers in Wisconsin is clear, there remain some major questions surrounding the nature of what a volunteer is and when volunteers evolve into employees. Let’s take a look at how these two separate considerations are defined by the state of Wisconsin.


The state of Wisconsin defines a volunteer as an individual who provides their services of their free will on behalf of an organization or entity without getting or expecting payment or compensation. The popular area of contention in this definition is the receiving or expecting of payment or compensation. Depending on how those two considerations are answered this may make a volunteer an employee.

Volunteer VS. Employee

The easiest way to determine a volunteer from an employee hinges on the expectation or reception of compensation in any form. This could include something like a discount, voucher, coupon, etc. in exchange for a service. If the individual has no expectation and does not receive anything for their services, they are most likely going to be a volunteer.

However, this easily defined situation gets a whole lot trickier when the organization itself is receiving compensation for the services provided by its volunteers. If nothing of value changes hands for services rendered from recipient to volunteer or volunteer’s organization, then it is a case of volunteers. But, if compensation is received or expected by any of the volunteers or the organization itself then an employer-employee relationship may in fact exist. In the event that an individual is hurt or gets sick in a case where the organization was receiving some sort of compensation for the volunteers’ efforts the local Worker’s Compensation Division will render a decision based on the facts at the time of the injury or illness. In these situations, it is impossible to predict whether or not the claim would result in the finding of an employee-employer relationship or a volunteer situation.

The easiest way to be sure that any individual is a volunteer is to expressly confirm with them that they will not be receiving any payment or compensation for their services and that they do not expect them.