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Human Resources/Sticky Situations for Preschool Teachers


We have struggled finding specifics that relate to overtime hours for teachers at our church preschool in Texas.   There are 15 employees.  It is a licenced preschool, but falls under the umbrella of our church 501c3

We want to provide a fair and legal resources for our teachers.  Our "teachers" are true teachers who spend most of their time instructing kids, while "teacher aids" perform the care and hands on assistance.  They work 30 hours/week and are paid hourly.

We have tried to set generous policies for teachers to be paid for lesson prep time, but have some teachers who want to do things outside of hours as "volunteer time"
For example:
One employee has set hours but likes to come in 30 minutes early to take their time setting up their class, rather than be "rushed".  They consider this a voluntary service.
One employee likes to come into her class over the weekend and set up her room.   There is no expectation to do this - she just wants to.
One employee wants to take materials home and do a special project for her kids as a gift.

I read your previous answer about hourly workers "volunteering", but teaching seems a bit of an enigma different from other jobs.   For teachers, what constitutes "work"?  What about reading a book at home related to lessons?   What about writing down ideas watching a TV program?   It seems like a fuzzy line for teachers.

Thank you for your consideration!


Thank you for the question.  

I am against a few deadlines today ( Tues Jan 15th)  but I will reply to this with a response within a day or two.  I wanted you to know I have your question.    You will see my response come through to your email as a "follow up" to this original question and then you can rate the response.

Talk soon.



I am just getting back to you now...   Sorry for the delay.

As you said accurately, teachers often refer to themselves as "volunteers" for the things they try to do outside of class to improve the experience for their students.   Very commendable.    They are not however, volunteering.  They are working and choosing not to get paid and this is not allowed-  or should not be allowed.   When the administration (employer) allows this or turns a blind eye to it you are opening a can of worms that does not pay dividends.    

The slippery slope can include a workers compensation situation for a teacher injured while volunteering, or a new teachers being told in a nice way or urged by her peers  "we volunteer here to help the kids" and the new teacher may not agree with this philosophy.    Maybe even one of your *best* teachers who volunteers the most will even show how much they volunteer by telling the new teacher  ,  "I volunteer 5 hours a week because I love it"  and in essence set the benchmark to quantify for the  wage and hour office the amount of typical volunteer hours to begin paying EACH teacher for 5 volunteer hours for a period over the last 2 years.   This would be the beginning of the investigation.   Would it really happen ?  likely not-- but I would not want to be on the receiving end.  roll the dice.

If the employer allows an employee to "suffer employment" as termed by the department of labor, then the employee must be paid.

The response I sent the other fellow about volunteering still applies to your situation.  

As a teacher, the situation is not any less unique than any other situation when an employee  is trying to figure out what constitutes work.     Too much gray area in my response?  Then defer to paid work time for volunteering in the gray area.....   if you are not sure if it  REALLY volunteering, then pay it.  Also, non-efficient people often will say they are volunteering to catch up or otherwise not burden the employer because their pace or effectiveness is not good.  I'm not saying this is your case,  but I have encountered administrative employees who, to save money-- and their jobs, took work home to do to keep up unknown to the employer and "volunteered" this time.   bad bad bad...

For example,  if a teacher sits down and daydreams about a new lesson plan component this may not be work- after all who could prove it anyway?   Alternatively, having a teacher sit in her kitchen and make a lesson plan for 2 hours at home on a Saturday morning and then present the lesson on Monday is definitely working.    No argument it was done for work as her job as a teacher and it was tangible and time consuming with a specific purpose and outcome and result.

For your teachers who come in early to set up the class, this is nice they want to be prepared, but this is also work time.    It doesn't matter if they believe they are volunteering - or even tell the employer-- no thanks-- I refuse the pay and dont even try to pay me-- however it is still work time.

Let me take this to the extreme please.....     Assume the same teacher gets dealt a sour card and one day decides to knock on the administrator's door and say,  "I was just thinking,  I just realized that I'd like to get paid for all those hours for the time YOU LET ME WORK and did not pay me for it....."          gulp.      You would say-- but  but you volunteered... She would say-- well, I felt I had to--   you always knew-- and everyone knows WE ALL DO IT  and....        then you say,  "But you volunteered on your own",  She might say  "  errr,  no I didnt".       This situation, although unlikely, is one possible outcome.

Another terrible but possible outcome is a teacher who dies in a car accident while running errands for the school and is not on work time--  due to volunteering.    Unfortunately,  the spouse of the deceased teacher never cared for all the volunteer hours and gets an attorney and then sues the school saying the teacher always worked and was killed driving while working and should be covered by workers compensation insurance-- ooh and she is also due for all those lost wages.....   

I'm painting the worst-- but still realistic outcomes. You may say,  "this would never happen here",  but I might be more cautious.    I hope it never happens-- and truth be told you could go 50 years before anythign adverse would ever occur.  But you never know.   You asked the laws-- I tell you the answer and the risk.    IT is all about avoiding risk.   

I hope you find this helpful and I suggest asking the teachers to limit the actual hands on work they do.


Brian Phillips

I hope this helps....   please rate the answer........  

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Brian Phillips


Foreign and US university students -*PLEASE*- DO NOT waste your time asking for my opinions, comments or analysis of your homework questions. Homework questions are not answered and are rejected. I am happy to help answer questions asked by employees and employers regarding United States based state and Federal wage and hour, OT, Fair labor standards, FMLA, COBRA, Recruiting, Interviewing techniques, employee manuals, discipline, terminations/quits, unemployment, HRIS rollout, Employee Leasing or Staffing company cost analysis, day to day scenarios, work situations and more. Essentially a well rounded HR generalist who operates Harvis, Inc., a human resource consulting and service business based in Northeastern Pennsylvania "NEPA".


At Harvis, Inc., we provide Human Resource products, services and advice to small businesses that may not have the time or resources to hire a full time HR department. For larger companies with HR managers in place, we compliment their expertise to help with time consuming or time sensitive projects like updating policy manuals, screening and interviewing and more. We make workplaces better by becoming that 1/2 person they need to help handle HR responsibilities on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. Formerly responsible for all Human Resource activity for a staffing agency with 2,500 annual employees as well as an employee leasing / PEO business with 1,500 annual employees. Designed and implemented the HR structure to support hundreds of clients in excess of $ 500 million in payroll volume over career in Human Resources.

* President 2006- Harvis Inc. HR Services * President 2010-13 Business Association of the Greater Shickshinny Area - Shickshinny PA * President 2013- ShickshinnyForward Not for Profit Community Long Term Revitalization Organization and former member of varios Chambers of Commerce and HR Taskforce, former President of NBC Business Club 2 years

Bloomsburg University - 1993 BS Marketing, Bloomsburg Pennsylvania and Luzerne County Community College - 1991 Business Administration, Nanticoke Pennsylvania

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* Better than average - 20/10 vision * Bestowed with an occasional "Thank You" from clients and their employees.

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