Will volunteers be able to sue for discrimination?

Although the issue of whether volunteers can be employees for employment law purposes is one that has been looked at many times before, we now have the continuing case of X v Mid Sussex CAB who is alleging that the Framework Employment Equality Directive applies to volunteers and that its provisions have direct effect in domestic (UK) law. This would essentially mean that volunteers would be protected by anti discrimination legislation. The case was heard in the UK Supreme Court at the end of October and we are now awaiting the judgment, which could have massive repercussions on voluntary sector organisations across the country.  The facts of the case were that the claimant was a volunteer adviser at the CAB. When she told her manager that she was HIV positive she alleges that she was told she could no longer work at the CAB as this was considered a risk to staff. She wanted to claim disability discrimination, but the employment tribunal held that volunteering was not within the scope of employment, because it did not cover voluntary work. The Supreme Court has a policy choice to make: require those who rely on volunteers to be liable to defend themselves against claims of discrimination…or will it think that it cannot be right that there should be no legal remedy for a volunteer who was badly treated by a third sector group because of their disability, colour etc? Watch this space.

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Age discrimination now unlawful in services, public functions and associations

From 1st October this year the Equality Act prohibits age discrimination in the provision of services, the exercise of public functions and in relation to associations. So organisations delivering services will need to consider how this affects them. An example that was cited recently was of welfare benefits applications being made only on-line may be indirectly discriminatory on the basis of age for older people are less likely to have access to a computer or be computer literate. There are some exceptions that the Government considers to be ‘justifiable, beneficial or needed for good public policy reasons’ – these include financial services, age based concessions, age related holidays, private clubs and sporting events eg under 21s tournament.

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Equality Act 2010 – what difference has it made?

It has been 2 years since the Equality Act 2010 received Royal Assent, so the question is has it made a difference to equality and people pursuing their rights? It’s true that the legislation behind discrimination law desperately needed to be overhauled – we had differing levels of protection for different areas of equality, and there is no doubt that the Equality Act 2010 is a much simpler and streamlined piece of law. But I still think there is a real job of work to be done for people to understand their rights and be encouraged to take forward cases. Whilst the Equality Act 2010 is better drafted, it doesn’t change the fact that the law and process to pursue your rights in this area is still complex. Although you can take a claim yourself, it is a difficult road – generally employers are better resourced and frighten clients into submission, often pushing them to settle cases for much less than they are worth by threats of costs against them. This is the real problem as far as we are concerned is putting claimants on an equal footing – enabling them to seek advice and support from specialists that know the law, that know the system they are operating within. That’s why our service is so important – helping claimants through the minefield of discrimination law and the tribunal or court process. We are however still not seeing the numbers we expected under certain equality areas, such as age and sexuality – I think that’s a combination of people still not being aware of their rights and the fact that people are struggling to find accessible advice. So if you know someone who needs advice at all around equality – let them know we’re here! We can advise people anywhere in England and Wales and there are no charges unless we secure a successful outcome, so they have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Shantele Janes, CHAWREC Director


Welcome to our New Website

CHAWREC LogoHere at Cheshire, Halton & Warrington Race & Equality Centre we have been offering a discrimination casework service since 1998.  This was originally funded through the Commission for Race Equality and then through the Equality & Human Rights Commission.  However, since 2012 grants have ended, as a result we have decided to keep this important service central to our services but unfortunately have had to implement a charging policy.

We have created this website so that people can find out a bit more about the discrimination casework service we offer and to also offer support and guidance to people who feel they have been discriminated against.  Please take a look around and let us know what you think!  If you have any comments, queries or questions then please contact us or leave us a reply on our blog!