Beware the Use of “Volunteers” at your Winery

Over the past few months, as I’ve been mulling over topics for this wine law blog, several people have expressed their surprise at the news that a Bay Area winery was recently cited and fined for labor violations involving over 20 unpaid volunteers. The Department of Industrial Relations investigated when one of the workers was injured and, unsurprisingly, was not covered by workers’ compensation insurance. The fines assessed were so prohibitive – roughly $115,000 – that the winery was forced to shut its doors. It has come as a shock to many in the wine industry that the use of volunteers not only violates California labor laws, but can have such devastating consequences. The Bay Area case is a wake-up call. For those in the industry who have used volunteers in the past, you should re-think that practice. If you are a for-profit business (there are exceptions for non-profits, religious, and charitable organizations), you may not use unpaid volunteers without running afoul of California labor laws. California law defines the term “employ” very broadly to include “to suffer or permit to work.” Your volunteers may not be suffering, but they are performing work for you, and so are technically considered employees entitled to minimum wage, meal and rest breaks, and overtime pay. You as their employer are required to…