Is volunteer work subject to the same labor laws (only 3 hours during school days + Minor Release form for students, for example) as paid work?

More specific question: can a minor work unlimited hours at a nonprofit?

  • Which state are you in? Most labor laws are set at the state level, not federal.
    – Someone
    Sep 30, 2022 at 15:32
  • Washington State.
    – belkarx
    Sep 30, 2022 at 15:42
  • Thank you! In the future, when asking about US law, it's generally best to add a state tag unless you're sure only federal law is relevant.
    – Someone
    Sep 30, 2022 at 15:43
  • Noted, thanks for editing the tag in for me :)
    – belkarx
    Sep 30, 2022 at 15:48
  • 1
    It is worth noting that the treatment of volunteers under employment laws may differ from law to law. For example, health and safety regulations might apply, even if wage and hours laws don't.
    – ohwilleke
    Sep 30, 2022 at 20:44

1 Answer 1


We can start with a basic federal rule, that under FLSA a volunteer can only be to a non-profit organization for public service, religious or humanitarian objectives. There are exemptions some of which relate to the minimum wage requirements, which I will ignore. Then there are state rules regarding when minors can work. Age 14 is the lower ends of allowed minor labor without a court order. There are two age brackets, 14-15 and 16-17, regarding the number of hours per day and week, whether during a school week or a non-school week. There are also exemptions where minors (16-17) are not restricted e.r.t. "school week hours" depending on whether e.g. then are married, are parents, are taking college courses, or have a high school diploma or GED, but they are otherwise restricted from fully volunteering their labor.

Title 49 has the state laws regarding labor. It is challenging to establish that anyone can legally volunteer their labor under state law, even though it is not prohibited at the federal level. If you turn to Chapter 49.46 RCW which relates to minimum wage, under the definition of "employee" excludes

(d) Any individual engaged in the activities of an educational, charitable, religious, state or local governmental body or agency, or nonprofit organization where the employer-employee relationship does not in fact exist or where the services are rendered to such organizations gratuitously.

There are no further restrictions on volunteer labor, at least w.r.t. to the issue of being paid (insurance is a separate title).

You can now put these two parts together. No minor can work unlimited hours; a minor can work as a volunteer for certain non-profits.

  • 1
    What do you mean by: "It is challenging to establish that anyone can legally volunteer their labor under state law..."? And how did you come to the conclusion in your last sentence? I can't follow your reasoning. Sep 30, 2022 at 17:58
  • Part 1 follows from the restrictions on hours for minors, see the second link above. Part 2 follows from the lack of any restriction on minors working for non-profits. The challenge is proving the non-existence of restrictions on minors volunteering (a classic case of "you just have to look everywhere to show that it doesn't exist").
    – user6726
    Sep 30, 2022 at 18:44
  • But if you can't prove that no restrictions exist wouldn't it be better to say "It is challenging to establish that anyone can NOT legally volunteer their labor under state law..."? Your wording implies that permission is required by the state to volunteer. Sep 30, 2022 at 18:52
  • And the one quote you did include specifically excludes volunteers from being considered employees, so no regulation pertaining to employment even applies, right? Sep 30, 2022 at 19:14
  • Is there a definition of "work" in these examples? For example, kids volunteering to pick-up trash, or freshen-up landscaping at a church or school. Kids of all ages do that kind of work all the time. Are they considered to be "working" for the church or school? Would a class of 10 year olds who volunteer to pick up trash at their school one Saturday be breaking some kind of labor law?
    – mikem
    Oct 3, 2022 at 6:33

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