Ohio Labor Laws, Volunteers, Unpaid Interns, and the FLSA

Have you seen the article floating around Facebook lately? You know, the one about the winery in California that is now going out of business because the state’s fine on it was so great that they are unable to continue doing business? (The list of citations is included in the article.) I think it was posted about 5 or 6 times last week, and I’ve been debating re-posting it and even commenting on it. You see, our students gain valuable experience during their practicum courses and experiences through KSUA and VESTA. Are our students ‘unpaid volunteers’? Nope. Not even close. They don’t even fall under the term ‘apprentices.’

Michelle Norgren, the VESTA Principal Investigator, compares VESTA (and by extension, KSUA Wine Degrees) students with student teachers, who aim to earn a degree in education. Not too unlike student teachers, who work in the classroom under the guidance of a mentor/teacher, VESTA and KSUA Wine Degree students are gaining industry-related experience toward the completion of their degrees. Mentors for VESTA and KSUA students have the option to receive compensation for each student mentored, so, really this isn’t a case of volunteers in the wineries.

In case you are interested in the Fair Labor Standards Act, you can review the information regarding volunteers:

Under the FLSA, employees may not volunteer services to for-profit private sector employers. On the other hand, in the vast majority of circumstances, individuals can volunteer services to public sector employers. When Congress amended the FLSA in 1985, it made clear that people are allowed to volunteer their services to public agencies and their community with but one exception – public sector employers may not allow their employees to volunteer, without compensation, additional time to do the same work for which they are employed. There is no prohibition on anyone employed in the private sector from volunteering in any capacity or line of work in the public sector.

You can also review Ohio’s laws regarding volunteers here:

“Employ” and “employee” do not include any person acting as a volunteer. In construing who is a volunteer, “volunteer” shall have the same meaning as in sections 553.101 to 553.106 of Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations, as amended, and due consideration and great weight shall be given to the United States department of labor’s and federal courts’ interpretations of the term “volunteer” under the Fair Labor Standards Act and its regulations.

So, I’d be careful regarding the use of volunteers in Ohio wineries, too.

We feel for any of the California wineries in this current predicament. It is important to protect workers’ rights and safety, while enabling winery owners to support the future of the industry through training the next generation of winery owners. Luckily, The Wine Institute – an advocacy group for CA wineries – has worked to educate wineries on these laws, but California is a big state with a lot of wineries, so it has its work cut out for it.

The moral of the story is: Even if you’re not in Ohio or California, you’d be wise to check with your state’s labor laws regarding volunteers in for-profit organizations.

Good luck!


This entry was posted in Enology, General Grape and Wine, Local Wineries, Practicum Students, Wine Production and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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