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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