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Departments must not displace a paid employee with an individual willing to forgo compensation. If the tasks assigned to a volunteer constitute the same work as performed by a paid worker, the volunteer may not be a “volunteer” according to the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act. Similarly, it is not appropriate to have a “volunteer” fill a job when there is an expectation of future pay, such as an individual performing the duties of an offered job while waiting for the employment visa to be approved.

Risks to the UW

There are risks to the UW for inappropriate use of “volunteers.” U.S. government agencies including the Department of Labor and the Department of Homeland Security may perform site visits or audits that can result in penalties to UW. In this context, employers who wrongly classify individuals as volunteers may be liable for:

  • Federal fines and payment of back wages for violating wage and hour laws
  • Federal fines for failure to complete (or improperly completing) Form I-9
  • Potential loss of federal research grants and contracts and the inability to re-apply for federal grants/contracts
  • Other state and federal penalties
  • Civil and criminal prosecution

Risks to the International Volunteer

The Department of Homeland Security determines what international visitors on visas in the U.S. can and cannot do, and prohibits employment in the U.S. except under specific conditions.

The risk to an international visitor is that a mutually agreeable volunteer arrangement may be viewed by immigration authorities as unauthorized employment. Individuals working without proper employment authorization violate the terms of their visa status, making them possibly deportable or ineligible to visit the U.S. in the future.

International scholars concerned about prior volunteer arrangements should contact a private immigration attorney to discuss further. The International Scholars Operations team cannot advise individuals on the possible consequences of activities outside of their UW-sponsored visas.