Either through mandatory community service, volunteering for a charity, or unpaid internships, working for free comes in various forms.
You might also be mandated by your employers to volunteer and put in free time at work. However, is it legal to work overtime for free?
This article explores the concept of working for free, the benefits of offering free services, and the disadvantages of working for free.
What do you call working for free?
Working for free can either be called volunteering, community service, unpaid internship, or pro bono work. They include offering free services to the community, charities, and for employers.
Free works like pro bono works are usually performed by professionals to aid organizations like universities, churches, hospitals, and charity foundations.
You can also aid individual clients with free services when they cannot afford to pay for them.
A good example of pro bono workers is lawyers. Although lawyers in the United States are not mandated to perform pro bono services, they still do it as part of their services to the community.
SEE: Does Volunteering Count As Work Experience: Impacts, Pros, Cons & More
Why do people work for free?
People work for free for various reasons such as gaining relevant career experience, networking with employers and clients, volunteering for a charity, or mandatory community service.
Among the reasons mentioned above, community services especially when imposed by a justice system are not voluntary.
What are the advantages of working for free?
Some of the advantages of working for free include enhancing your career skills, increasing your pay rate, and networking opportunities among other advantages.
1. Improving your career skills
Free work can help you build the skills required to get a job or advance in your career. With an increasingly high unemployment rate and poor economic situation, most companies do not turn down the offer of free labor.
Applying to work for free at a business or company of interest means there is a particular set of skills you would like to build on. Enhancing these skills can lead to job opportunities that pay well.
SEE: Unique Skills That Will Impress Your Boss
2. Networking opportunities
People volunteer for free mostly because of the networking opportunities associated with it.
Not only do you get the chance to associate with professionals in their various fields, but you also open a door to future collaborations with them.
3. Makes it easier to boost your pay rate
Free work gives you the experience needed to hone your skills and apply for a better-paying job.
For example, interns who are exceptional during their internship may be promoted to full-time employees upon completion of their internship.
SEE: Industry Experience: Meaning, Benefits, Development & More
4. Makes you feel good about yourself
Volunteering for charity organizations or doing pro bono work for clients in need who cannot afford the legal expenses can improve your emotional state.
Not only do you get that feeling of satisfaction that you’re helping those in need, but it also improves the way you view yourself.
5. It can lead to career advancement
Developing your skills through volunteering can help you advance in your career.
This is because you also network with various professionals who might be in a position to link you up with better employment opportunities.
However, while there are certain benefits to working for free, you should never take up free work when you know you can be paid for it.
Always find out what compensations accompany the work you’ve been tasked to do.
This is because while there are some benefits to free labor, there are also disadvantages associated with it.
Let’s take a look at some of the disadvantages to free work in the section below.
What are the disadvantages of working for free?
1. You earn no money
While free labor promises you the opportunity of a better career and pay, it does not immediately pay you.
You cannot use promises to pay your bills, feed, cloth yourself, or settle other financial issues.
Also, employers tend to abuse free labor and it sets a bad pattern that is hard to break.
Employers who get a taste of free labor might end up relying on them in order to cut costs and maximize profit.
Free labor when exploited will lead to nothing but bankruptcy as your expenses do not reduce while you work for free.
2. Employment is not guaranteed
Unpaid internships or offering free services in order to gain favor does not guarantee you getting the job.
Often it is a plot by employers to get more work done without the responsibility of having to pay.
3. You might be exploited
It’s likely that you’ll be excellent at what you do, and your manager will consider it a blessing that you not only entered their lives but also continue to do great work for nothing.
This may result in your duties increasing for tasks other employees in the company receive full pay for. Soon enough you’ll notice that they have no intentions of hiring you but wish to use you for as long as possible.
4. Promises can lead to disappointment
When you work for free, you might experience some form of discrimination from fully employed staff. Not only are you treated as someone lesser in rank, but the promises made by your superiors also should not be taken seriously.
Imagine working for free based on promises made by superiors only to get nothing after the end of your free service.
In addition, you probably won’t even get an apology for being exploited. If you must work for free, make sure there are certain benefits you are getting in return.
These benefits may include a transportation allowance, letter of recommendation, acknowledgment via social media, or online recommendations about your services.
Can you be fired for refusing to work for free?
Yes, your employer can fire you for refusing to work for free if you got the job as an “at-will employee”.
At-will employees can lose their jobs for no reason or even good reasons as the employer sees fit.
However, your employer cannot fire you for refusing to work for free when you have a standard employment contract.
You also cannot lose your job for reasons like religion, age, race, sexuality, or retaliation.
If you suspect that you were fired as a result of unlawful retaliation for refusing to work overtime for free, consult with an attorney.
What is the difference between volunteering and community service?
A non-paying job done by an individual or group of individuals for the benefit of their community or its institutions is known as community service. Given that it is not usually done voluntarily, community service is different from volunteering.
This could be a penalty meted out by the legal system or a requirement imposed by the state.
Can employers force you to work for free?
According to employment law, it is unlawful to force an employee to work without pay.
Free labor should depend on whether a full-time employee actually benefits from the firm or if they are simply honing their abilities for educational purposes.
Is working for free the same thing as volunteering?
Free workers are never paid in any form, whereas volunteers are always acknowledged in some way.
Can you get fired at a free job?
Yes, a volunteer may be fired legally for a variety of reasons, including the host organization’s dislike of the volunteer’s personality. However, the host organization is not permitted to legally fire a volunteer for discriminating or retaliatory reasons.
While working for free can surely help you hone the skills needed to excel in your career, I would not recommend it.
The free worker often has to endure higher expenses than benefits. These expenses range from transportation costs to feeding and paying your bills.
Furthermore, there is no guarantee that the free services rendered will result in your getting a job. Employers mostly use this as an avenue to exploit inexperienced workers.
Finally, a more suitable option for working for free includes engaging in paid relevant training to acquire the skills required. Here are some important training programs every employee must undergo.
I hope you found this article helpful.
Thanks for reading.