Today marks the 11th anniversary of the tragedies of September 11. More than one million Americans are expected to serve in their communities in honor of 9/11 this year as part of the National Day of Service and Remembrance. Last year, more than 1,000 businesses took part in the effort as well.
As an employer, you may have thought about encouraging your employees to engage in charitable service. According to A Billion + Change, an initiative launched by the federal Corporation for National and Community Service to mobilize pro bono services in the workplace, employer-sponsored volunteer programs can be good for business, and may result in:
Increased employee morale, loyalty and productivity;
Stronger customer goodwill and loyalty;
Enhanced profitability; and
Improved return on community investment.
If you’d like to promote volunteerism in your workplace, keep the following considerations in mind.
Ideas for Promoting Volunteerism in the Workplace
Employee volunteer programs can take any number of forms, including:
Allowing employees flexible time, paid leave or leaves of absence without pay in order to accommodate volunteer work.
- Holding volunteer fairs at the workplace.
Permitting employees to use company facilities and equipment (such as office supplies, computers and copy machines) for volunteer work.
Recognizing those employees who volunteer on their leisure time, such as in a company newsletter or email distribution.
Giving a free lunch, gift or financial bonus to employees who volunteer a specific number of hours each year.
Formal programs in which the employer works directly with one or more charities and allows employees to volunteer for a one-time project (such as a large fundraising event) or on an ongoing basis. In these programs, employees might also be recruited to serve on the board of trustees of the charity or to provide legal, tax or other professional advice to the charity on an as-needed basis.
Must You Compensate Employees for Time Spent Volunteering?
- Under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), employers may generally encourage their employees to volunteer their services for public or charitable purposes outside of normal working hours without incurring an obligation to treat that time as hours worked so long as participation is optional and non-participation will not adversely affect working conditions or employment prospects.
Federal law requires that time spent in work for public or charitable purposes at the employer's request, or under his or her direction or control, or while the employee is required to be on the premises, be treated as working time.
Under the FLSA, employees may not volunteer their services to for-profit private sector employers. You can check an organization’s federal tax-exempt status by using the Exempt Organizations Select Check, a free tool from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
Public sector employers must keep in mind that they may not allow their employees to volunteer, without compensation, additional time to do the same work for which they are employed.
Federal income tax deductions for the value of the time or services provided to a charity are not permitted. Similarly, an individual may not deduct from his or her federal income taxes the value of income lost while he or she works as an unpaid volunteer.
Note, however, certain expenses incurred and related to volunteer work may be deductible if they are:
- Directly connected with the services;
- Expenses incurred only because of the services provided; and
- Not personal, living, or family expenses.
Such deductibles might include, for example, certain car expenses and uniforms. For more information, check out the IRS webpage on Tax Information for Contributors. And don’t forget to check your state department of revenue for state tax laws that may apply to charitable donations of time or service and related expenses.
For More Information
If you’re unsure about how to treat employee volunteer hours and expenses, check with a knowledgeable employment law attorney and/or tax professional.
Resources and ideas for employers interested in participating in the 9/11 National Day of Service and Remembrance are available from the Points of Light Institute. The Corporation for National and Community Service offers additional information about the 9/11 National Day of Service and Remembrance, as well as how A Billion + Change works with businesses to coordinate volunteer efforts in the workplace at any time of the year.
Have you had a chance to download our free 2012 HR & Benefits Compliance Quick-Check? It's a great resource for staying on top of your company's compliance with important HR and benefits-related laws.
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