The University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Tennessee County Municipal Advisory Service

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Summary and References

Reference Number: MTAS-1427
Tennessee Code Annotated
Reviewed Date: April 28, 2017
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Volunteer firefighters perform valuable emergency and essential services for their communities and are cost effective. The Fair Labor Standards Act includes provisions to recognize the public benefits of volunteers and prevent the manipulation of the law by employers seeking to avoid paying fair wages and overtime for work performed. Important points to remember include:

  • Public employees may volunteer with their agency in a capacity that is different from what they are paid to do.
  • Both FLSA and IRS rules and regulations apply to volunteers.
  • Volunteers may receive a reasonable nominal fee for their service, and the municipality is responsible for determining the amount of the nominal fee.
  • If volunteer firefighters receive compensation, the municipality must report the compensation using a W-2, not a 1099.
  • Optionally, volunteers may serve under a valid accountable plan, which is not considered compensation by the IRS.
  • The policies, rules, and regulations of the municipality apply to volunteers working for a municipally operated fire department.

It is important for a municipality to classify, supervise, and compensate volunteers appropriately. Failure to do so causes internal administrative and financial problems, discord with the volunteers, may result in fines or penalties, and may result in liability for back employment taxes.

References and Additional Information:
29 CFR Part 553, Fair Labor Standards Act Regulations, Application of the Fair Labor Standards Act to Employees of State and Local Government. Available at:

Employer’s Supplemental Tax Guide. IRS publications 15-A.

Employer’s Tax Guide to Fringe Benefits for Use in 2012. IRS publication 15-b.

Internal Revenue Service:

Rynecki, Steven B. and Korom, James. Computing Costs Under FLSA. von Briesen & Redmond, S.C. (1985).

Stokes, Richard. The Fair Labor Standards Act: Revised and Updated. MTAS (2009).

U. S. Department of Labor. Wage and Hour Opinion Letter FLSA2006-28. Available at:

U. S. Department of Labor. Wage and Hour Opinion Letter FLSA2005-51. Available at: