Maine Supreme Court Addresses Volunteer/Employee Distinction Under the Workers’ Compensation Act

Maine Workers' Comp Alert

At issue in Huff v. Regional Transportation Program, 2017 ME 229 (December 12, 2017), was whether a mileage reimbursement to a “volunteer” can constitute remuneration when it is significant enough to exceed the volunteer’s immediate expenditures.

In Huff, an individual became a volunteer driver for the Regional Transportation Program (RTP), a nonprofit that provides elderly transportation. He used his own vehicle to transport people. The individual was reimbursed for expenses by RTP at the IRS employee reimbursement rate of $0.41 per mile. He generally received $700 – $800 per week in reimbursements. In 2012, the individual was involved in an accident while driving for RTP. He brought a claim for workers’ compensation benefits as an RTP employee, which the Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) denied, finding he was a volunteer.

The WCB Appellate Division affirmed the Board’s decision. It rejected the individual’s contention that the $0.41 per mile he received as reimbursement constituted remuneration. The Appellate Division also rejected the argument that the $0.41 reimbursement rate is an IRS rate specifically set for employees, noting that provisions of the tax code do not dictate interpretations of the Maine Workers’ Compensation Act.

The Law Court affirmed. It held that the reimbursement did not constitute payment for services. The Court noted that, although this case did not fit the bill, “[t]here may be a case where the reimbursement rate for mileage is so high, or the receipt of other benefits is so great, that a reasonable interpretation of the Workers’ Compensation Act would compel us to conclude that the reimbursement for those services constituted payment for services.” The Law Court rejected an alternative argument that the individual was entitled to compensation because he “submit[ted] himself to the control” of RTP, because “[w]here a worker ‘submits himself to the control of another’ but does not receive payment, he is not an ‘employee’ for purposes of the Act.”