Using Volunteers May Be Illegal

As long as I can remember during my time in the wine industry and long before that, wineries have been using volunteers throughout the year, to work during events or to help in the cellar. In fact, sometimes consumers will pay wineries in order to participate in grape picking, etc.

An article by Laura Ness that appeared in Wine Business Monthly online Daily NewsLinks mentioned something that is going to cause great concern among wineries throughout North America. The Daily NewsLinks reported in a news item that it’s illegal under California labor laws to use volunteers in a for-profit business. The article states that anyone who works as an employee must also have access to worker’s compensation insurance.

It would seem that the government entity, The Division of Labor Standard Enforcement is cracking down. A small winery in the Livermore Valley finds itself facing fines of nearly $100,000, including back wages for a group of volunteers, as well as fines and penalties. The winery’s owner has decided to close up shop and, as while he can appeal, he apparently has been told by the DLSE that he wasn’t going to win an appeal.

So, what are the laws regarding the use of volunteers in your state or province?  Do you know?  If not, I encourage you to find out. Also, is it legal for you to organize an event (for instance, grape picking, or other harvest activities) when customers, wine club members, etc. actually pay to participate in picking, after which there may be a lunch, wine tasting or the like? My guess is that most wineries don’t know the laws in their state or province, nor do they know the financial or other consequences for breaking this law. It seems a small thing to lose a business over, especially a business that you have worked so hard to grow.

To read the who article go to the September 8 edition of Daily NewLinks under the headline Volunteers and the Law: Winery Shuts Down After Labor Violation.

A tip of the glass from me to you!

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