Ask the legal expert: Is pressure to contribute to my boss's favorite charity legal?

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Attorney John Durso, Ungaretti & Harris LLP
Attorney John Durso, Ungaretti & Harris LLP
My boss is leaning on me to contribute my time or money (or both) to his favorite charity. Is this legal?

Generally, a boss's request for charitable donations is not improper or illegal unless he or she uses intimidation tactics, threats, coercion or discrimination to obtain the donation. Asking for charitable donations is not illegal as long as nobody is forced to contribute.

However, if you were going to take action against an employer for trying to force you to donate, you would have to prove that coercion of some sort actually took place. Unfortunately for employees, proof of coercion may be difficult to produce, especially if the coercion took place during an informal, closed-door conversation.

If your boss's favorite charity happens to be a certain political campaign, you may have a remedy under the Federal Election Campaign Act or other federal laws.

Also, if your boss asks you to volunteer your time, wage and hour laws may be implicated. The Fair Labor Standards Acts, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, to name a few, all contemplate a separation between “employee” and “volunteer.”

As a general rule, volunteerism must be just that: voluntary, not mandatory. Otherwise, the employer must pay you for time spent on “volunteer” activities. If your employer fails to adequately distinguish between “work” and “volunteer” activities, your employer could also be liable for any injuries that occur to employees while volunteering.

If your employer is a not-for-profit entity that is exempt from federal taxes under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, requiring employee contributions may raise concerns with the Internal Revenue Service, as well as other regulatory concerns.
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