As record flooding continues in and around St. Joseph, Missouri, volunteers have scrambled to help those affected. One way volunteers have helped is by filling sandbags in the worst-hit areas of Missouri. Unfortunately, filling sandbags is not light work, and volunteers – especially those unfamiliar with the work – frequently get hurt doing it.
This raises the question: Are volunteers covered by workers’ compensation in Missouri?
Volunteers are Exempt from Workers’ Compensation Coverage
In Missouri, employers are legally required to carry workers’ compensation insurance if they have more than five employees. Construction companies are an exception: If they have any employees, they have to carry workers’ compensation insurance.
There are, however, certain types of workers who are exempted from this count. Exempt workers are those who are explicitly excluded from the law’s requirements. Farm workers, independent contractors, babysitters or housekeepers are all examples of exempt workers who fall outside the protection of Missouri’s workers’ compensation requirements.
Another example of an exempt worker for the purposes of workers’ compensation is a volunteer.
However, just because employers are not required to provide workers’ compensation coverage for their volunteers does not mean that none of them do.
Some Employers Choose to Cover Volunteers With Workers’ Compensation, Anyway
Many employers realize that not providing volunteers with workers’ compensation coverage opens their business to potential liability. Workers’ compensation coverage acts as a trade-off: Workers hurt on the job get an expedited process that recovers some – but not all – of the losses they have suffered. In return, they forfeit their right to sue their employer for any negligence on their part that caused their injuries.
When employers do not provide workers’ compensation coverage, then, they allow their workers to file a personal injury lawsuit against them. If the employer is found to have been negligent and that negligence was the cause of the workers’ injuries, the employer can find themselves paying far more in a verdict or settlement than they would have paid in workers’ compensation insurance premiums.
Therefore, many employers carry workers’ compensation coverage that extends to volunteers, as well.
What this Means for Injured Volunteers
If you were volunteering and got hurt, the first thing to do is ascertain whether the company or organization you were working for has workers’ compensation that covers unpaid help, like volunteers. Even if it does not have this coverage, that does not mean that you are out of luck: What constitutes a “volunteer” in Missouri is more complicated than one would think. You could think that you are a volunteer but still be classified as an employee for workers’ compensation in some cases.
Even if it turns out that you are not covered by the organization’s workers’ compensation insurance, that does not mean that you will never be compensated for your injuries. It just means that you have to file a personal injury suit, instead.
Workers’ Compensation Attorneys at the Smith Law Office in St. Joseph
The workers’ compensation and personal injury lawyers at the Smith Law Office strive to recover the compensation that injured workers need after being hurt on the job. Contact us online or call our St. Joseph law office at (816) 875-9373 for the legal representation you need.