Every once in a while, we come across an injured worker who wrongly believes he or she is not entitled to workers’ compensation. While some employees may just assume they are not covered because they were acting as a volunteer, apprentice, or an intern at the time they were injured, some employers point blank tell their employees they are not covered because of the employee’s title or status.

What you might be surprised to learn is that Minnesota has a broad interpretation of who is qualified for workman’s compensation. Who qualifies for worker’s compensation coverage may be broader than you may assume or your employer has led you to believe.

If your employer has indicated you are not an eligible employee because you were a volunteer, intern, apprentice, or minor at the time of your workplace injury, you should take a few minutes to learn more about whether these types of positions may be eligible for benefits. It is not always as simple as your title and what your employer may believe.

Volunteers May Be Covered

Minnesota’s work comp generally defines an “employee” as any person who performs services for another for hire. If you are a volunteer who was hurt on the job, you could have difficulty getting worker’s compensation coverage because you were not working “for hire.”

But, that is not the end of the story.

If an injured employee comes into our office and says they were a volunteer when they got injured on the job, we know that more digging is required. Just because someone is a volunteer does not mean they are never covered.

First, you need to determine that you are in fact a volunteer. “For hire” essentially means that you are getting paid, but what people do not always realize is that getting paid does not have to mean you receive a traditional paycheck. Your payment could be in many different forms. For example, room and board could be considered payment for work. What constitutes payment for work can depend on your specific situation, so if you are speaking with an attorney, you should bring up any sort of benefit you receive from a “volunteer” position. He or she can then help you determine if you are legally a volunteer.

Second, are you a special volunteer? Minnesota has special rules for certain types of volunteer, such as:

  • Volunteer firefighters
  • Volunteer first responders
  • Volunteers at the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf
  • Volunteers at the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind
  • Volunteers at a Minnesota veterans home

There are a number of other “special volunteer” categories. Generally, each category has some restrictions and requirements that must be met.

Whether a volunteer is covered is not always an easy yes or no answer. Because whether you are covered could be the difference between getting your medical bills paid for, wage replacement for time off work, and other benefits or having to pay for all of these expenses out of your own pocket, it is important to further investigate your eligibility.

Apprentices May Be Covered and Have Special Benefit Calculation

Under Minnesota law, an apprentice may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits too.

Just like an injured volunteer, if we have a client come into our office and tell us that they were an apprentice when they were hurt on the job, it signals that we need to take an extra close look at the facts of that employee’s situation.

Just because your employer categorizes you as an “apprentice” doesn’t always mean you are an apprentice under the law. More information about the specifics of your job are absolutely essential to determine your eligibility. Here are a few facts that might indicate you are an apprentice:

  • You receive a license after completing a specified amount of hours
  • You receive a certificate after completing a specified amount of hours
  • The primary purpose of your job is to learn a new trade
  • How much you are paid

None of these facts alone necessarily mean you are or are not an apprentice, but they are helpful in determining your legal status and warrant further inquiry with a workers’ compensation lawyer.

Interns May Be Covered

If you are an intern, there are a few questions you need to ask to determine if you are a covered employee under workman’s comp.

First, are you a paid intern or a volunteer intern? If you are a paid intern, you most likely will fall under the regular definition of “employee” and may be eligible for coverage. If you are a volunteer intern, you need to ask the next question.

Second, if you are a volunteer intern, do you fall under any of the special volunteer exemptions? These are some of the special rules we discussed above. If yes, then you need to make sure you meet all of the other statutory requirements.

Next Steps: Making a Plan of Action

Now that you know more information about volunteers, apprentices, and interns, you can see why we consider this a “red flag.” Whenever one of these issues come up, it is an immediate indicator that more investigation needs to be done.

As always, if you have concerns about your workers’ compensation claim, you have been injured at work, or you recognize a “red flag” that may be applicable to you, our team of workers’ compensation attorneys are available to assist you. We are here to advocate for you today, so you have a better tomorrow.