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Anti-discrimination laws do not cover volunteers

1 February 2011

Volunteers working unpaid do not fall within the scope of anti-discrimination employment laws, the Court of Appeal has ruled.

Giving judgment in X v Mid Sussex Citizens Advice Bureau, Lord Justice Elias rejected the contention that volunteering constituted an ‘occupation’ for the purposes of employment law.

X, a volunteer caseworker with a Citizens Advice Bureau, claimed she had been discriminated against on grounds of disability when she was asked to cease volunteering for the CAB.

Elias LJ said it was “far from obvious that it would be thought desirable to include volunteers within the scope of the discrimination legislation relating to employment”.

According to Elias LJ it was “inconceivable” that the EU would not have dealt specifically with the position of volunteers if the intention had been to include them.

He continued: “The concept of worker has been restricted to persons who are remunerated for what they do. The concept of occupation is essentially an overlapping one, and I see no reason to suppose that it was intended to cover non-remunerated work.”

Elias LJ conceded the fact the EU institutions appeared to have implicitly excluded volunteering from the scope of the equal treatment directive was “not a decisive consideration”.

But he said it carried “considerable weight” and that “that understanding jars with the submission that it is obvious that the draftsman must have intended to include volunteers within the scope of the directive”.

Just over two years ago a Scottish employment tribunal referred a similar question to the European Court of Justice.

In Masih v Awaz FM, a christian minister volunteering with a local radio station claimed he had been discriminated against on the grounds of religion.

Masih had been working as a presenter with the station for six years when he was asked to leave. The reference was appealed to the Scottish employment appeal tribunal, but stayed until the ruling in X.

Categorised in:

Legal Aid Termination Discrimination