Volunteers do not have same rights as employees

Categories: Community Engagement.

In the judgement of X v Mid Sussex Citizens Advice Bureau, handed down on Wednesday (12 December 2012), the Supreme Court ruled that protection from discrimination for employees offered by a European Directive on equal treatment in employment and occupation does not also cover volunteers.

In this case, a volunteer, known as Mrs X, claimed she was forced out of her role at the Citizens Advice Bureau due to a chronic health condition, and wished to bring a case for disability discrimination.

The case was struck out by the employment tribunal, which said that the volunteer did not have a contract with the Citizens Advice Bureau and that therefore was not protected by the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.

Mrs X appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal, the Court of Appeal and then to the Supreme Court. She argued that the European Directive, which covers employment and ‘occupation’, should extend to cover volunteers. However, the Supreme Court ruled that it was clear that the legislation was not intended to cover volunteers, and turned down her application to take the case to the Court of Justice of the European Union.

Dr Justin Davis Smith, chief executive of Volunteering England, welcomed the judgement and said: “We believe that giving volunteers the same legal status as employees would fundamentally undermine the nature of volunteering. It would create significant practical barriers and additional costs for charities and other volunteer-involving organisations. It would lead to a formalisation of the structures and processes of volunteering that we believe would be harmful to the ethos of volunteering, which is of such vital importance throughout our society.”

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