Profiting Off a “Volunteer” Workforce is Unlawful

We have seen a disturbing trend of for-profit companies using well-meaning people to “volunteer.”  Clever companies have convinced Washington employees to work for free by claiming the workers are “volunteers.”  These companies do not pay these employees even though the companies are making a profit off of their labor. This is illegal and the backpay attorneys at Rekhi & Wolk have been protecting these workers.

For example, Rekhi & Wolk recently settled a class action lawsuit with a large comic convention company because they used “volunteers” to work for them for up to 14 hours per day.  The companies pocketed the profits by saving money by claiming their workers were volunteers.  Those employees did not get paid any wages, even  though they were doing work for the company.

We are actively litigating another class-action against a gaming company that uses “volunteers.” These volunteers are required to promote the company’s products, attend meetings, market to local game stores, and comply with  list of an extensive job duties.

The backpay attorneys at Rekhi & Wolk are also currently seeking to protect “volunteers” — often referenced in the industry as “interns” or “stages” — at high-end restaurants. These restaurants are trying to get around the minimum wage and overtime laws by misclassifying employees as volunteers that want experience in the industry. The restaurants justify their actions by claiming its a long-standing practice in the industry and that it a privilege for inexperienced chefs to work for them – for free. They hire and use these “volunteer” chefs to perform menial tasks – from polishing silverware to cleaning dishes – for free or below the minimum wage. This is illegal.  It violates Washington and federal employment laws.

Companies should not prey on Washington employees.  Companies should not increase profits by taking advantage of people’s interests.  Washington and Federal employment laws require that these employees be paid at least a minimum wage, unless they are actually volunteering for a non-profit.  No one should be allowed to work for free.  These “volunteer” positions displace paying jobs.  It drives wages down for everyone and increases the profits of companies.

Even if your employer has convinced you to work for free, it is illegal.  Employers can not change the minimum wage laws by getting employees to agree to work for free or below the minimum wage.

If you have been taken advantage of by a for profit company by “volunteering” – that is, you are working for free, or for non-monetary payment  (e.g., a convention pass, or “experience” at a prestigious restaurant), then please call the backpay attorneys at Rekhi & Wolk who seek to stop this unfair and illegal practice.

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