In some countries there is a minimum hourly rate for an employee, given by law.

In a hypothetical scenario, Mr. David intends to work for a company for free for a certain amount of time, either to get some experience or to give back to a community as a volunteer. Would that be a conflict with the law of the minimum hourly rate?

  • Working without compensation is generally considered volunteer work and in many places is not subject to minimum wage laws. But there is a lot unspoken in your question. Please provide more details.
    – jwh20
    Jan 31, 2023 at 11:14
  • My question is a hypothetical scenario one. Your answer is perfect. Thank you.
    – Jane
    Jan 31, 2023 at 11:16

2 Answers 2


It depends

Unpaid work might be lawful without the person being an employee (and therefore engaging minimum pay laws among other things) in these circumstances:

  1. Vocational placement as part of formal work experience in connection with a recognised education or training course.
  2. Unpaid Trials for the purpose of demonstrating suitability for a position. Such a trial is valid only for long as it takes to demonstrate (un)suitability and must be under the direct supervision of the potential employer. An hour to a shift is about the limit here.
  3. Unpaid work experience and unpaid internships when a person works for a business to gain experience in a particular occupation or industry. The person must not be doing "productive" work, the main benefit of the arrangement must be for the worker, and it must be clear that they are receiving a meaningful learning experience.
  4. Volunteering doing work for the main purpose of benefitting someone else, such as a church, sporting club, government school, charity or community organisation. Key components are that neither party intends to create an employment relationship, the volunteer is under no obligation to attend or perform work, and the volunteer does not expect to be paid.

Notwithstanding, paid or unpaid, workers are protected by Work Health and Safety laws and the Person Controlling a Business or Undertaking (PCBU) is responsible for their safety and welfare.


In the US you can only work unpaid as a volunteer for a charity or government organization. There is a trainee exception that the feds seem to treat narrowly (see below for six criteria).

The federal law is FLSA. From one of the agency’s fact sheets -

Fact Sheet #14A: Non-Profit Organizations and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

Volunteers The FLSA recognizes the generosity and public benefits of volunteering and allows individuals to freely volunteer in many circumstances for charitable and public purposes. Individuals may volunteer time to religious, charitable, civic, humanitarian, or similar non- profit organizations as a public service and not be covered by the FLSA. Individuals generally may not, however, volunteer in commercial activities run by a non-profit organization such as a gift shop. A volunteer generally will not be considered an employee for FLSA purposes if the individual volunteers freely for public service, religious or humanitarian objectives, and without contemplation or receipt of compensation. Typically, such volunteers serve on a part-time basis and do not displace regular employed workers or perform work that would otherwise be performed by regular employees. In addition, paid employees of a non-profit organization cannot volunteer to provide the same type of services to their non-profit organization that they are employed to provide. Where to Obtain Additional Information For additional information, visit our Wage and Hour Division Website: http://www.wage

From a labor attorney web site. The criteria used by the feds for the “trainee” exception -

If all of the following six factors are met, an intern is not an employee, and the FLSA's payment requirements will not apply:

  • The training, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to that which would be given in a vocational school;
  • The training is for the benefit of the intern;
  • The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under their close observation;
  • The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantages from the activities of the intern and, on occasion, the employer's operations may actually be impeded;
  • The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and,
  • The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.
  • Can you cite relevant law? Federal only please. I don't think either of us has time for all the states and territories.
    – hszmv
    Feb 1, 2023 at 17:48

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