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Worker status: A volunteer can be a worker when attending activities for which they were entitled to remuneration

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By Ceri Fuller, Hilary Larter & Joanne Bell


Published 19 June 2024


In this case a volunteer in the Coastal Rescue Service (CRS) successfully appealed against the Employment Tribunal's (ET) decision that he was not a worker and therefore not entitled to be accompanied by a trade union representative at a disciplinary hearing.



The case arose out of a dispute as to whether the appellant had a right to be accompanied at a disciplinary hearing; a right which only applies to workers.

The appellant, Martin Groom, served as a volunteer Coastal Rescue Officer (CRO) for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA). His membership of the CRS was governed by the terms of a volunteer agreement, which said it was “a voluntary two-way commitment” between the parties “where no contract of employment exists”. Under the volunteer agreement, volunteers could claim an hourly rate for performing specified activities, plus expenses, although in practice some members did not claim payment.

The appellant's CRS membership was terminated following a disciplinary hearing, and he was issued a P45. He claimed that he was not permitted to be accompanied by a trade union representative at the hearing, which requires worker status under the Employment Relations Act 1999. He therefore brought a claim in the ET, to determine his worker status. The ET analysed the documentation and found he was not a worker as he did not have a contractual relationship with the MCA.

Mr Groom appealed to the EAT and the EAT allowed the appeal. The EAT found that there is no firm rule that a volunteer can never be an employee or a worker. The tribunal must consider whether there is a contract at all, and if so whether it is a contract to provide work or services to the other party, in the usual way. In this case, volunteers were entitled to remuneration in return for performing activities. The fact that Mr Groom had to claim for remuneration (as opposed to automatically receiving it) and that some CROs did not claim remuneration, was not relevant. The right to payment indicated that there was a contract between the parties when Mr Groom attended an activity for which he could claim payment. As he provided services personally and was not running a business, he was a worker. The EAT left open the question of worker status for activities not attracting remuneration.


What this means for employers

The decision clarifies that the status of a volunteer depends on the particular circumstances of the relationship rather than the label that someone is given or what is stated in the documentation governing the relationship. It clarifies that a contract and worker status can arise when a volunteer performs services in exchange for remuneration. Employers who engage volunteers should be aware of the potential implications of offering remuneration for certain activities (other than pure reimbursement of expenses) and the rights and obligations that may follow. For example, as workers they would be entitled to National Minimum Wage, holiday and sick pay. Employers should also review the documents and policies that govern the relationship with volunteers, and ensure that they reflect the reality and intention of the parties.

Groom v Maritime and Coastguard Agency