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Volunteering while on disability

Hi, we have an employee who has been out on disability for approx. 8 months. He suffered a stroke and has been rehabilitating. We are a school and are in the middle of renewing contracts for the upcoming school year. We sent this employee an Intent to Return (a form in which they state whether or not they are planning on teaching for the upcoming year). We have not received it back yet. We know that if the employee does want to return, they will need to produce a doctors note stating that they can come back to work at full capacity to teach classes.

In the meantime, this employee has contacted us and would like to come on campus as a volunteer. They know they are not ready to come back to work but would like to spend a few hours on campus helping out.

My thought is that while they are on disability, they should not be on campus at all? Can you let me know if we should let them volunteer or not? And, if they do volunteer, does this affect how we approach them returning to work?

Thank you!

This is a complex issue and you may want to get an attorney involved before making a final determination. You cannot have this employee work part-time, without pay, while he is rehabbing from the stroke. That would be illegal under federal and state minimum wage laws. If you have an organized program of volunteers in place with specific responsibilities, and the employee wants to participate in that program while he is recovering from his stroke, with his doctors permission, that would be acceptable.

If you do not currently have an organized volunteer program, then you should not permit the employee to do this.

First, the employee needs to fill out the Intent to Return form. He is probably delaying it because he realizes he will not be fully recovered by the beginning of the next school year. You need to honestly apprise him of the pros and cons of completing that form.

An employee can be unable to perform his job duties but able to participate in other activities such as volunteering. Naturally, you will require a release from the doctor saying that the employee can participate in the volunteer program up to x hours per day, or up to x hours per week. For example, the release might say that the employee could volunteer up to 4 hours per day.

This participation may actually accelerate the employees recovery from the stroke, and if you have an organized volunteer program, it will benefit the students as well. You seem to be assuming that if the employee does nothing, he will recover faster, but that is not necessarily the case.

However, you need to make sure that the employee performs the same duties that any other volunteer would. If a classroom volunteer normally reads the children a story, then this volunteer needs to confine his activities to reading the children a story, not teaching grammar and spelling.

Allowing the employee to volunteer in this way has no effect on how you handle the employees return to work. When the employee has a full release from his doctor stating that he can resume his usual duties, you will return him to his paid position.

Also be aware that there may be issues under ADA if the employee fails to make a full recovery from the stroke.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, April 29th, 2010 at 8:03 am and is filed under
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10 Responses to “Volunteering while on disability”

  1. Kristin Lewis Says:

    Thank you very much. We do not have a volunteer program, so it sounds like it would not be a good idea to have the employee on campus. If they state they want to return but have not made a full recovery from the stroke, can we not offer a contract if it is clear that they cannot fulfull the job description even with accomodations under ADA?

  2. Caitlin Says:

    Hi Kristin! Again, you may want to consult with an attorney on this. First of all, the employee would need a release from his or her doctor to return to work. If the employee has that release, and you refuse to offer him a contract because you believe he has a disability, that might very well be illegal discrimination. It is especially hard to predict what will happen 5 months from now, with this employees health. You would be better off offering this employee a contract, and then making other arrangements if he is not physically able to fulfil it. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Caitlin

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