Guidelines for use of trainees and volunteers in veterinary practice

The opportunity for students and others to experience the veterinary profession as a volunteer, or trainee is beneficial to the individual and the profession, however, labor laws require veterinary establishments closely follow the law when these positions are offered without pay.

The Federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) establishes the federal minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping, and child labor standards affecting full-time and part-time workers in the private and public sectors. It defines employees and provides certain exemptions for trainees and volunteers. This law applies to a company or organization with annual dollar volume of sales or receipts in the amount of $500,000 or more. If the company/organization does not meet this threshold, the employees may still be covered by the FLSA if their own duties meet certain interstate commerce requirements.

Each veterinary establishment that uses volunteers/trainees should also be aware of the state and local labor laws where the establishment is located. Each veterinary establishment should consult with its insurance carrier to assess liability coverage regarding professional liability, workers' compensation, auto, and general liability relative to the action of a volunteer. Insurance carriers should also be consulted regarding coverage should volunteers or trainees be injured during the course of their affiliation with the practice. An indemnification agreement between the establishment and the volunteer or trainee should be considered.

Veterinary establishments should be aware that utilizing trainees or volunteers beyond the criteria as stipulated above could subject the establishment to wage-hour litigation and other liability.

1. Trainees

Whether trainees or students are employees of an employer under the FLSA will depend upon all of the circumstances surrounding their activities on the premises of the employer. If all of the following criteria apply, the trainees or students may not be employees within the meaning of the Act:

  1. The training, even though it includes actual operation of the employer's facilities and equipment, is similar to that which would be given in a vocational school;
  2. The training is for the benefit of the trainees or students;
  3. The trainees or students do not displace regular employees, but work under their close supervision;
  4. The employer who provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the trainees or students and on occasion, the operations may actually be impeded;
  5. The trainees or students are not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the training period; and
  6. The employer and the trainees or students understand that the trainees or students are not entitled to wages from the time spent in training.

2. Volunteers

A volunteer is an individual performing service for civic, charitable, or humanitarian reasons, without promise, expectation or receipt of compensation for services rendered. Under the FLSA, individuals may not volunteer services to for-profit private sector employers. However, they may volunteer for public sector organizations or those organized as not-for-profits.