People need to argue the validity of whether or not the network is breaking the law and if this ok and what should be done about it. Discussion about my intentions, motivations or personality are off topic for the purposes of this discussion.

This question is the next step from this:

Is Stack Exchange in violation of New York labor law, in using volunteer moderators?

and in a similar spirit of this:

Dear Stack Exchange: a statement and a letter from your moderators

As mentioned in this answer, taken from New York State Department of Labor - Division of Labor Standards Frequently Asked Questions:

Any argument defending the Stack Overflow company that the moderator volunteers served for possible education reasons, would be countered by the fact people profited from the site.

It would seem that under the laws of New York, where the company resides, utilising a volunteer or unpaid workforce is contravening the law. It seems moderators should be paid a minimum wage.

Should the people who have worked on the site as moderators form some type of union and take action against the site seeking remuneration?

What are people's thoughts and what should our next steps be?

in response to comments:
It's not a burn the house down sentiment at all.

It's a simple case of finding out if the business is breaking the law and that if they are, this needs to be rectified. If they are breaking labour laws, this is not ok. It's not a matter of opinion, it's a matter of the law.


If the company is breaking the law, they shouldn't be breaking the law. It's that simple.


4 Answers 4


According to New York law, SE can continue to use volunteer moderators if it spins the community off into a legally separate nonprofit educational organization, as already proposed here.

Moderators might be able to negotiate this outcome in lieu of any damages they might be eligible for.

  • This is an interesting idea. Maybe this is similar to wikipedia. I'm not sure. Oct 30, 2019 at 6:55
  • For being a non-profit I suppose they'll have to stop the ads (?).
    – user437611
    Oct 30, 2019 at 8:47
  • 2
    Not necessarily. Depending on how much they would earn with such ads it could be seen as Unrelated Income and be taxed accordingly.
    – Bart
    Oct 30, 2019 at 9:25
  • @S.D. The actual text of the law doesn't use the word "profit" at all. It says a corporation, unincorporated association, community chest, fund or foundation organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable or educational purposes, no part of the net earnings of which inures to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual. State laws usually avoid the term "nonprofit" because it makes it sound like they aren't allowed to make a profit at anything. Oct 30, 2019 at 16:50
  • IANAL, but that section of the NY law only describes what does and does not qualify as an "Employee". Reading that, what volunteer moderators do on SE doesn't qualify them as "Employees"... As far as I can tell, that text does not state that how SE's volunteers are being utilized now is in any way illegal. If it does, I'd suggest quoting that in your answer.
    – Cerbrus
    Oct 30, 2019 at 18:00
  • Those answers still assume that what moderators do on SE qualifies as "Work". That in itself seems debatable to me, @rockwalrus.
    – Cerbrus
    Oct 30, 2019 at 21:36
  • @Cerbrus Precedent interprets that word extremely broadly. Also, according to precedent, the fact that SE allows its employees to spend a non-negligible time moderating means that moderating is covered by the law. Oct 31, 2019 at 19:08

What are people's thoughts and what should our next steps be?

  1. I think the argument for suing due to labor laws is vexatious as parties should have entered into the moderation arrangement knowing it was on a volunteer basis.
  2. Contact a Lawyer if you feel the need for litigation.

Personally, I think this is a perfect a example of Compensation Culture.

EDIT: Not a Lawyer, you do you.

  • Given all the calls to action on this site,it's a little nasty to single out this one post and insult my post as being frivolous or fradulent
    – user310756
    Oct 30, 2019 at 6:11
  • 15
    @Nobody I did not imply that your post is frivolous or fraudulent, only the argument for litigation or compensation as a whole. This post just happened to be on the top when I opened Meta. Note these are my personal opinions and are open for discussion, my opinion can only hold the weight you give it.
    – Drew
    Oct 30, 2019 at 6:15
  • 5
    I agree that it's a little (read: extremely) silly to go and sue a company you've been volunteering for, possibly even for years, asking for compensation after the fact. Nothing good will come of sueing SE. Moderators won't get better conditions, SE won't suddenly start listening. Threatening with legal action will only make SE hole up behind a wall of lawyers.
    – Cerbrus
    Oct 30, 2019 at 17:43

Should we be taking legal action against the network for possible breach in labour laws with moderators

No, we shouldn't. I'm a moderator and I'm not interested in getting paid for it by StackExchange as this would immediately turn a purely volunteer relationship into a second job.

On the legal side, I'm likewise not in an emoloyee-employer relationship as I don't take direct orders from SE management beyond respecting the company's terms and conditions. I don't even know who SE's management is and don't have a way to contact them beyond a generic email address. This is a relationship not too different from people contributing on Wikipedia or adding reviews on Google Maps.

Please stop finding ways to sue StackExchange. It's counterproductive and no one will benefit even if you somehow succeed.

  • 1
    I didn't start finding ways to sue SOInc. I'm not actively collecting money to sue the company.
    – user310756
    Oct 30, 2019 at 11:48

Most moderators participate as such because they are, or were, passionate about the Stack(s) they participate on.

And while many of us are unhappy with The Company, for diverse reasons, I don't think most of us wish to take any action that would cause harm to SE. Grievances are with specific, rectifiable decisions or actions SE or its employees have made, not fundamental opposition to the entire organization.

So, I would be concerned if a moderator's stance on recent and/or current issues is a "burn the house down" sentiment. We still care about the work and the communities. That's why we're upset. We care. Most of us want to alleviate harm we perceive happening to our Stacks, not inflict it.

I think our next steps, as moderators, should be to wait and not take extreme actions, even if we feel that The Company has taken extreme actions. We can be better than that. And we have been better than that. The open letter linked in the question is proof of that. 160+ moderators signed the letter, roughly 1/3rd of all across the network (I don't have exact stats offhand, and Positions is different than Individuals), coming from all walks of life, parts of the world, and opinions concerning what's happened in the last month.

And our voice was heard. And although I think SE is slow to move, they are moving.

As users, we should continue to use the tools of the platform to petition for change and hope that SE responds. If we cannot maintain that hope, I honestly don't see why we would bother sticking around. Many have already washed their hands of it all, but I don't think hope is lost.

If we're strictly curious about what laws would apply and how, then concerned individuals should probably reach out to the relevant agencies. Most Labor agencies have hotlines for asking questions or voicing concerns, and utilizing something like that seems to me to be the only reasonable next step in ony fact-finding venture.

  • 5
    it's not a burn the house down sentiment at all. If the company is breaking the law, they shouldn't be breaking the law. It's that simple.
    – user310756
    Oct 30, 2019 at 6:37
  • @Nobody We do not have proof or strong precedent that any law has been broken, nor how applicable that law would be to individuals from across the US and planet and all their various jurisdictions. Acting with a presumption of guilt is dangerous.
    – user287266
    Oct 30, 2019 at 6:42
  • @WebHead: The question is about whether to take the next step, which would be the only way to know definitively that law has been broken. Oct 30, 2019 at 6:43
  • 4
    I'm not acting with a presumption of guilt. I am wanting to have it investigated
    – user310756
    Oct 30, 2019 at 6:50
  • 1
    @Nobody - Thanks for clarifying your goal. I would support an investigation, if it's done reasonably. You may wish to contact the NYS department of labor. Oct 30, 2019 at 6:58
  • @Nobody Your question implied guilt as it suggested taking legal action and seeking renumeration, not simply investigation and fact-finding. That may not have been your intent, but before your clarifications it certainly seemed to be.
    – user287266
    Oct 30, 2019 at 6:59
  • @rockwalrus The question asks what our next steps should be, and I've answered that.
    – user287266
    Oct 30, 2019 at 7:02
  • @WebHead yes I agree. I have edited it. Is it better now? Yes it should be a fact finding mission. It's just that the linked post already is kinda asking that. This is more - what should we do then? Feel free to edit it.
    – user310756
    Oct 30, 2019 at 7:11
  • @Nobody it's better, but I think the bulk of my answer stands,. I don't think right now is the time for doing anything drastic. That said, I don't think doing an inquiry is drastic. We are all answer-seekers, after all.
    – user287266
    Oct 30, 2019 at 7:15

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