A New Jersey woman who volunteered at a local thrift store recently had her workers’ compensation claim denied because a judge ruled that she was not considered an employee under the scope of the law.

Vasiliki Rallatos, who routinely shopped at the local thrift store, said she decided to submit a volunteer application after she learned that volunteers were subject to a 50 percent discount on all store items.  Rallatos, who was unemployed at the time, frequently shopped at the store and thought that the discount provided “a great incentive” to volunteer.

One day, while working at the store, Rallatos suffered an undisclosed injury.  The non-profit charity group initially provided authorized medical care.

Rallatos filed a workers’ compensation claim in hopes of recuperating medical expenses associated with her injury.  The workers’ compensation judge who heard her case did not agree with Rallatos’ contention that she should be considered for compensation.  The court’s decision can be seen below.

“Here we go back to the basic legal definition of consideration. Consideration is a benefit conferred as an inducement to a commitment. It can be commonly seen in the standard employment agreement whereby a worker works the job for which he is paid a wage by the employer.  There are many other forms of consideration; far too numerous to list here. The question for this court is: Was the 50 percent discount afforded to Petitioner an inducement to get her to commit her time and services to Respondent? The answer: No.”

“Many of these groups rely on donations and volunteers in order to make ends meet and survive. Given the importance of their work to society, the court is careful to consider imposing any further burdens on such entities. While the instant matter was decided solely on the facts presented in light of the cases and the Act, the issues noted are not peripheral to those organizations that are trying to do good works for the poor and disabled.”

“Therefore, in light of the analysis and review of the statute as set forth above, the court finds that Petitioner was not an employee of Respondent.”

Citing New Jersey S.A. 34:15-36, the judge ruled that volunteers cannot be considered an employee for the purpose of determining workers’ compensation claims.  The judge also stated that he was aware of the potential implications for state agencies if he had granted the claim.

“The court is also mindful of the broader implications for charitable organizations as a result of this decision,” the judge said.

Key testimony in the claim was supplied by the charity group’s human resources director, who said that volunteers are viewed separately from paid employees.  Volunteers are not eligible for monetary employee benefits, and the corporate office does not keep records of the volunteers at each individual store.

Related source:  Workers’ Compensation Institute