N.J. Judge: No Workers’ Comp Benefits for Thrift Store Volunteer

A New Jersey workers’ compensation judge recently ruled that a thrift store volunteer cannot be considered as an employee for the purpose of determining compensability.

A 50 percent store discount for volunteers doesn’t qualify as sufficient financial consideration to meet the definition of “employee” under N.J.S.A. 34:15-36, according to the decision.

The ruling was issued by the judge of compensation at the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

The case involved New Jersey resident Vasiliki Rallatos, who had been a regular shopper at a thrift store run by the ARC of Atlantic County, a non-profit charity organization. She said she purchased from there regularly before submitting the application to volunteer.

The volunteer explained that the charity group offered a 50 percent discount on all items to those who volunteered their time. She was told about the discount when she submitted her volunteer application and she testified that it was “a great incentive.”

While she did admit that she would have “possibly” volunteered at the store without the discount, she noted that the discount helped her because she was unemployed.

The volunteer was injured on the premises in May of 2010. The charity group did initially provide authorized medical care, the court noted.

The judge examined the legal meaning of “consideration” in the ruling. “Here we go back to the basic legal definition of consideration. Consideration is a benefit conferred as an inducement to a commitment. It can be commonly seen in the standard employment agreement whereby a worker works the job for which he is paid a wage by the employer,” according to the court statement.

“There are many other forms of consideration; far too numerous to list here. The question for this court is: Was the 50 percent discount afforded to Petitioner an inducement to get her to commit her time and services to Respondent? The answer: No.”

The charity group’s human resources director also testified that the group does not treat its volunteers in any way like it does its employees; There are no employee benefits to administer and no paperwork or reporting for the volunteers at the HR office.

“The court is also mindful of the broader implications for charitable organizations as a result of this decision,” according to the judge.

“Many of these groups rely on donations and volunteers in order to make ends meet and survive. Given the importance of their work to society, the court is careful to consider imposing any further burdens on such entities. While the instant matter was decided solely on the facts presented in light of the cases and the Act, the issues noted are not peripheral to those organizations that are trying to do good works for the poor and disabled.”

The court stated, “Therefore, in light of the analysis and review of the statute as set forth above, the court finds that Petitioner was not an employee of Respondent as it is defined by Section 36 of the Workers’ Compensation Act and the cases cited.”

The case is Vasiliki Rallatos, Petitioner v. The ARC of Atlantic County, Respondent, with ruling by Honorable Carmine J. Taglialatella, Judge of Compensation, Division of Workers’ Compensation, New Jersey Department of Labor & Workforce Development.