Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Ski season is underway in Oregon, with Mt. Bachelor already open and Willamette Pass (my family's favorite) due to open soon, maybe this weekend. Volunteers may be in shorter supply this season, due to a case decided by the Oregon Court of Appeals. In Mt. Bachelor Ski Education Foundation v. Employment Dept., 215 Or. App. 607, 170 P.3d 1106 (Oct. 31, 2007), the court held that a "volunteer" who received an annual ski pass was, in fact, an employee.
The Foundation provides volunteers to help with ski training and races. The volunteer form states, "I am aware that I am NOT an employee." Each volunteer is given an annual pass to Mt. Bachelor, valued at $910 for the year in question (2004-05) After a volunteer filed for unemployment compensation, the Employment Department assessed unpaid employment taxes against the "employer." The Foundation challenged the assessment, arguing that the ski pass was necessary for the volunteer to have access to the slopes and do carry out her volunteer work. The ALJ agreed with the Employment Dept. and so did the Court of Appeals.
If a ski pass makes a volunteer an employee for purposes of an unemployment claim, then it presumably carries income tax consequences as well. The fallout is significant for ski areas that count on volunteers for ski patrols as well as for race supervision and ski education. The Foundation has decided not to appeal the ruling, and is hoping for a legislative solution. A House committee has authorized the drafting of a bill that would say that volunteers are not employees, even when they are compensated in some (presumably de minimis) way. Churck Burley, R-Bend, the State Representative who requested the bill is a longtime ski patrol volunteer and understands the need for volunteers to keep ski slopes safe. Colorado has a statute that exempts ski volunteers from employment status, and presumably Oregon will soon have a similar statute. This story was reported by Mike Stahberg, The Register Guard, Eugene, Oregon, Dec. 18, 2007.