Labour Research December 2012

Law Queries


Q. Our member does voluntary work in her spare time. Unfortunately in that unpaid role she has suffered race discrimination. Can she use the employment tribunal to pursue a complaint?

A. Currently, volunteers (assuming it cannot be shown that in reality they are employees and have simply been labelled as volunteers) often cannot bring discrimination claims.

A recent case that confirmed this was X v Mid Sussex Citizens Advice Bureau. However, although the claimant (known as X) has thus far been unsuccessful, she is appealing the issue to the Supreme Court.

And she has just gained support from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) — which has agreed to formally intervene. The EHRC points out that Article 3 of the Framework Directive for Equal Treatment in Employment and Occupation prohibits discrimination in occupation “and/or conditions for access to ... occupation”.

The EHRC believes that this means that some forms of voluntary work will attract protection from discrimination (although not other employment law protections).