29th March 2013

Employment: volunteers don’t have discrimination protection

In a decision that has come as a relief to charities, the Supreme Court upheld the decision of the Court of Appeal that an unpaid volunteer was not covered by UK or EU discrimination law.

The volunteer had a written volunteer’s agreement with Mid-Sussex Citizens Advice Bureau but was asked to stop volunteering after continuously not turning up.  The volunteer alleged however that she had been asked to stop as a result of a disability (she was HIV positive) and brought a discrimination claim.

The Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeal and Tribunal decisions that the volunteer was not an employee and the legislation did not apply.  The Supreme Court held that the legislation could not be read to cover volunteers and nothing in the process leading up to its adoption suggested it had been intended to cover unpaid workers.

It is good news for charities who can now be certain that volunteers are excluded from discrimination protection (which would cover on the grounds of sex, race, age, sexual orientation and religion as well as disability which featured in the Mid-Sussex case).

However, whilst the exclusion of volunteers from discrimination protection is now clear, the question of whether an individual is a volunteer without worker or employment status is often not a matter of clarity, as it is determined not by a person’s job title but by the facts of each case.

Sarah Winter
Business – Corporate and Commercial, Employment

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