Are Injured Volunteers Eligible for Workers’ Compensation Benefits?

Volunteers

The coronavirus pandemic has rocked the entire country. Since January, health authorities have recorded more than 250,000 infected cases and nearly 7,000 deaths across the United States. In western Pennsylvania, the outbreak has sparked the best in some people, inspiring community members to volunteer at food banks and distribution centers for masks and gloves. 

Many have praised the response of volunteers. Yet their proximity to the disease raises an important question: What happens if a volunteer contracts coronavirus? Are benefits available? Does workers’ compensation insurance cover volunteers similar to employees?

Not all volunteers will find they have access to workers’ compensation benefits, which generally apply for employees who suffer work-related injuries in the course of employment. But organizations, such as non-profits, who depend on volunteers to run events and provide services, likely consider these individuals as “workers.” Varying state law will determine who needs coverage.

Types of Pennsylvania volunteers covered

In Pennsylvania, volunteers generally are not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. However, several types of volunteers are included in the definition of “employee” under state law. These include:

  • Volunteer firefighters, who suffer injury in the course of their duties
  • Members of a volunteer ambulance corps or rescue and lifesaving squads set up by a municipality, who suffer injury in the course of their duties, including while traveling to or from the scene of an emergency
  • Volunteers working for the State Parks and Forests Program or forest firefighters, who suffer injury in the course of their duties
  • Members who volunteer with a hazardous materials response team, who suffer injury in the course of their duties

Under these rules, a volunteer firefighter who suffers an injury could qualify for workers’ compensation benefits if the injury resulted in a loss of earning power. When a volunteer injury occurs, the wage calculation must be equal to at least the statewide average weekly wage. The policy is a financial safeguard for those who volunteer their time and effort serving the public. Also, if the firefighter suffers work-related scars or burns on their head, face, or neck, they may be entitled to disfigurement benefits for permanent unsightly disfigurement.

Workers’ compensation protections for volunteers extend beyond formal volunteering efforts in the community. Employees could also be covered if they suffer an injury while preventing a crime or providing first aid, emergency care or rescue at the scene of an emergency encountered in the course of employment.

After an individual suffers an injury while volunteering, they may wonder whether any benefits are available to cover lost wages during the time needed to recuperate. A Pennsylvania workers’ compensation attorney can advise on whether workers’ compensation benefits may be available based on the unique circumstances of your case. Contact us for guidance.

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