On 12 December 2012 the Supreme Court, in the case of X v Mid Sussex CAB, ruled that laws to protect workers from discrimination do not cover volunteers unless they have a contract or are undergoing vocational training.
X was a volunteer legal advisor with the Citizens’ Advice Bureau, who alleged that she was discriminated against because of her disability (X is HIV positive). X said that this discrimination was against European Law and argued that her voluntary work at the CAB – which she did for 1-3 days a week for over a year – constituted an “occupation” and so she was covered by the legislation which protects workers and people in, or trying to access, an occupation.
The Citizens Advice Bureau disputed her allegations of discrimination, but also argued that in any case X was not protected by EU anti-discrimination law or domestic law, because she was a volunteer with no binding contract with the CAB. The CAB successfully applied to strike out her claim, and successfully defended its position before the EAT and the Court of Appeal.
The Supreme Court has now agreed that neither domestic legislation nor European discrimination law applies to persons in X’s situation.
The case has profound consequences for many situations where volunteers work. It seems clear that a voluntary worker will only be covered by the discrimination legislation when they are involved in vocational training or working under a contract. The position with other types of volunteers is much less clear cut.