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Sep 02

Are Volunteers Covered Under Your Workers’ Compensation Policy?

Brewery Volunteers - Work Comp CoverageBrewery owners often ask me if volunteers are covered on their workers compensation policies. Start-up breweries often use friend and family volunteer labor in order to keep costs low. Other breweries like to give back and help aspiring brewers hone their craft.  Others exchange work with a volunteer. For example, a volunteer who is an IT expert gives the brewery IT support in order to be able to learn the craft of brewing. Whatever the reason for using volunteers, you are exposing yourself to uncovered medical claims if you don’t ensure they are covered on your workers’ comp policy.

So, what’s the answer? Are they covered? Well, at the risk of killing your interest in this post right off the bat, the answer unfortunately is… it depends.

I called and asked this question to two underwriters at different insurance carriers, and guess what? One said yes, and the other said no.  The underwriter that said no did say that volunteers could be covered under a “Volunteers as Employees Endorsement,” but he insisted that volunteers would not be covered without it.

So, yes, they can be covered under workers compensation, but you must absolutely check with your insurance carrier first. This is not a “better to ask for forgiveness than permission” situation. Insurance companies are not known for their sense of humor.

And for those of you who have volunteers sign a waiver of liability? While it is good practice to obtain these, from what attorneys tell me, you just have ink on paper. Besides, if a volunteer did injure himself or herself, would you just say “Sorry, buddy, you signed a waiver. Stop by CVS for some burn salve and Band-Aids on your way home.” That is not going to play well in your community-supported business.

Here is how you can ensure that coverage for volunteers is in place so that you are protected.

Actions Items

  1. E-mail your insurance agent, and ask him or her to e-mail your underwriter regarding coverage for volunteers. Don’t rely on the insurance agent’s word on this.
  2. Tell your agent that you require him or her to forward the written answer from the underwriter to you. It’s called a “CYA e-mail” for your files.
  3. If the answer is yes, then go ahead. If an endorsement is required, then weigh the cost of the endorsement against the benefit you will receive from volunteers and make your decision.