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Emma O'Connor


In the recent case of Groom -v- Maritime and Coastguard Agency, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) had to deal with the issue of whether a costal rescue volunteer, denied representation at a disciplinary hearing, was a “worker” and not a “volunteer”. 


Central issue

The issue in this case centred around Mr Groom’s argument that he should be considered a “worker” under employment law after being denied the opportunity to bring a companion with him to a disciplinary meeting the Agency had called against him. 



By way of background, coastal rescue volunteers (CRV) were required to attend various training courses and also rescues as minimum requirement for them being able to attend search and rescues.  Given the nature of the volunteering, some of these rescues were during unsociable hours (e.g. at night).  The issue arose as to the status of these individuals: were they “volunteers” or were they “workers”? The CRV had a handbook which set out the expectations of the Agency.  IT included information about minimum training/service as well as setting out certain expenses the CRVs could claim in respect of their volunteering services.  There was no written contract as such between the Agency and the CRV.


Tribunal's Decision

On the facts, the EAT held that, despite there not being a written contract with the volunteers, the arrangements which were in place between Mr Groom and the Agency did give rise to both the provision of services and a requirement for personal service (I.e. Mr Groom could not send a substitute to do his work).  As a result, the EAT held that Mr Groom was a “worker” whilst performing his volunteering services.


Implications for charities and organisations

This case is of course a difficult one for many charities and organisations which rely on volunteers and also where volunteers are expected to undergo training and development to be able to do the thing for which they are volunteering for.  I can think of many organisations which rely on volunteers to assist and where there is a degree of training/practice/simulation involved.  Yes, this case is dependent on its own facts; however, issues spring to mind such as when is volunteering “work” and when is it purely “volunteering”? 

For now, it is advisable to check your policies regarding volunteers, especially where there are minimum expectations on volunteering activities and some remuneration is given for the volunteers’ time.

Consistent with our policy when giving comment and advice on a non-specific basis, we cannot assume legal responsibility for the accuracy of any particular statement. In the case of specific problems we recommend that professional advice be sought.

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If you have any questions relating to this article or have any employment matters you would like to discuss, please contact the Employment team.

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