Reviewed Date: 10/04/2022
Whether or not a volunteer is considered an employee of the municipality depends on the situation and the applicable law. Volunteers are employees for some purposes, and only volunteers with no employment rights for other purposes.
Volunteers are not considered employees for purposes of the Little Hatch Act, or T.C.A. § 7-51-1501.
Volunteers are employees for purposes of the workers’ compensation law and Government Tort Liability Act.
The Department of Labor considers volunteers to be volunteers only and not employees, so there is no hourly rate required or overtime liability for the municipality as long as the municipality follows DOL requirements for any compensation the municipality may provide.
When it comes to application of personnel policies, volunteers are considered employees as the city has the legal duty to enforce rules and keep the volunteers compliant with city policies. Because a volunteer firefighter working for a municipal fire department is a common-law employee, the municipality’s personnel policies, rules, and regulations apply to the volunteer. The reason for this is that actions of volunteer employees can cause liability for the city, just as actions of regular employees can bring liability.
A municipality receiving fire services from an independently owned and operated volunteer fire department should have a written agreement with the fire department that includes how the volunteer firefighters will be supervised and whether they will follow any of the municipality’s policies and procedures. If the volunteer firefighters will follow municipality policies and procedures, the written agreement should reference those specific policies, procedures, rules, and regulations.