Can I volunteer?
Do not confuse "volunteer services" with an unpaid internship. A volunteer is an individual who performs hours of service for a public agency for charitable or humanitarian reasons, without promise or expectation of compensation.
Do not offer services for free if those services are normally associated with a paid position. If you accept an unpaid position, it must be unpaid for anyone, regardless of citizenship and visa status.
Pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act (a federal law that establishes the minimum wages for work performed), the US Department of Labor (DOL) has developed six criteria for differentiating between an employee entitled to minimum wage or above and a learner/trainee who may be unpaid. The criteria for learner/trainee are:
- The training, even though it includes actual operations of the facilities of the employers, is similar to that which would be given in a vocational school.
- The training is for the benefit of the student.
- The student does not displace a regular employee, but works under the close observation of a regular employee or supervisor.
- The employer provides the training and derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the student; and on occasion, the operations may actually be impeded by the training.
- The student is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the training period.
- The employer and the student understand that the student is not entitled to wages for the time spent training.