Q: We have a volunteer who gives a lot of time, maybe 20-30 hours a week. We do not pay him. He is on workers' compensation from an ankle injury. One of our board members is concerned that there may be some liability issues for the church in having him volunteer that many hours while he is on workers' compensation. Is this a valid concern?
A: Workers' compensation benefits are based on the nature and degree of an injured worker's work-related injury. "Total disability" benefits may be awarded upon a finding that the injured employee can no longer perform compensated employment. As a result, a person's eligibility to receive total disability benefits is directly affected if he or she begins performing compensated employment. And, such employment may not only result in a discontinuation of benefits, but also a legal obligation to return benefits already paid.
Is a church subject to any penalties if it knowingly hires and compensates a person who is receiving workers' compensation benefits? In most cases, the answer is no. It is the employee, and not the employer, who may be required to return benefits paid while he or she was earning wages from a job. Still, it is a "best practice" for churches to consider the following precautions: