Volunteer service while receiving workers’ compensation temporary total disability?

According to the National & Community Service Corp., 63 million people volunteer a total of 7.9 billion hours of community service each year. This raises an interesting question: should you perform volunteer work while receiving workers’ compensation temporary total disability?

One does not need to be completely, utterly and abjectly helpless to qualify for disability. In order to receive temporary total compensation, one must be temporarily unable to return to the job held at the time of injury. Thus, the same shoulder sprain that would render a custodian disabled might not render someone like me – an attorney who performs desk work – disabled.

My colleagues recently discussed the advice to give to an injured worker on temporary total who wished to participate in a volunteer program teaching children to read. In exchange for their service, the volunteer received a stipend of $640 per month.

The consensus was to discourage participation. Every injured worker who receives temporary total completes a “C-84 Request for Temporary Total Compensation.” This form requests the worker to report all earnings “…to include full or part time, self-employment, including income-producing hobbies or commission work.” Obviously, even a small amount of volunteer or hobby income can produce a red flag inviting scrutiny. Thus, even a small amount of remuneration can jeopardize the injured workers’ compensation.

But what about volunteer service with no stipend? Even that can create issues. The Ohio Supreme Court has suggested that the demonstration of an ability to engage in activity that “could” be income producing may be enough to render an injured worker ineligible. State ex rel. Schultz v. Indus. Comm. 96 Ohio St.3d 27, 2002-Ohio-3316.

It is better to be safe than to risk losing your source of income. It is better to think twice and seek legal advice before performing even volunteer service while receiving disability compensation.