Can Volunteers Get Compensation for Accidents?

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April 24–30 is National Volunteer Week 2022. Volunteering means giving your time and your passion to a cause you believe in, but it shouldn’t mean getting hurt. In Quebec, are there legal protections for people who have an accident while doing volunteer work?

Volunteers have the right to a safe work environment

Volunteers have the right to a work environment that respects their physical and mental health, safety, and well-being, even though they are not paid workers.  They also have the right to be informed about safety risks and to get proper training, supervision, and safety equipment.

Organizations who use volunteers must make sure they are doing what is necessary to protect them.

For their part, volunteers must make sure they are acting in a way that keeps themselves and others safe.

Volunteers may get compensation for an accident

The type of compensation available to people who have an accident while volunteering depends on whether the organization that uses them registers with the Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité au travail (CNESST or labour standards, pay equity and workplace health and safety board).

The organization is registered with the CNESST

Volunteers are not automatically covered by Quebec’s workplace accident compensation scheme because they are not paid workers.  

Organizations who use volunteers can apply to the CNESST so their volunteers can claim workplace accident compensation.  Volunteers can ask their organization to find out if they are registered with the CNESST.

If the organization is registered, volunteers could get medical care, rehabilitation, income replacement, and other benefits, depending on the circumstances of their accident.  To learn about the steps to take after a workplace accident, read our article on the topic or this page on the CNESST’s website.

The organization is not registered with the CNESST

Volunteers may still be able to get compensation even if their organization does not register with the CNESST.

If a volunteer gets injured, they can tell their organization and ask if the organization has private insurance covering volunteer accidents.

A court could also order the organization to pay the volunteer for their injury, but only if the volunteer proves that the accident happened because the organization was careless or did something wrong.  

People who have had an accident while doing volunteer work can consult a lawyer to get legal advice specific to their personal situation.