A reader recently commented on the compensation of seniors who work as resident monitors in a building where they live. The building (in Colorado) is operated by a religious charity. The monitor oversees the premises when management is not present. Although working more than 60 hours each week, the monitor is paid only about $200.

While the reader may resent building management, the arrangement is proper under the Fair Labor Standards Act because the monitors are volunteers. (We do not address Colorado law, which might have contrary provisions.) As we wrote several years ago:

Nonprofit and public sector organizations may have volunteers as long as the volunteers are not employees of the organization and give time and services gratuitously. There can’t be any pressure or coercion to donate time, and all services must be free and voluntary.

So long as our reader is not compelled to serve as a monitor, the nonprofit building manager has no duty to pay wages.

Moreover, the payment of a modest stipend does not change the result. A nonprofit can pay a volunteer reimbursement for expenses, reasonable benefits or a nominal fee without creating a duty to pay minimum wage. The US Department of Labor has defined “nominal fee” as 20% or less of what an employee doing the same work would make. We don’t have sufficient information to determine whether the stipend that the reader is receiving exceeds the usual 20% threshold.

Of course building management could choose to hire monitors as employees. Assuming that volunteers are available, however, building management probably would prefer to get the services for the much lower cost of the stipend. So the reader must decide: should he or she continue as a monitor with very limited financial reward for services, or find a more lucrative or satisfying activity?

If you have questions about volunteers or other wage and hour issue, please contact the Foster Pepper Employment and Labor group.