Groom v Maritime & Coastguard Agency [2024]

by Jon Taylor

21 May 2024

Just because someone volunteers to do a task, does that mean they are not a ‘worker’ for statutory purposes? Not necessarily, according to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) in Groom v Maritime & Coastguard Agency. Here, a volunteer may qualify as a worker if they have the right to be renumerated for their activities.

Mr. Martin was a Costal Rescue Service (CRS) volunteer. Mr. Martin volunteered for the CRS and filed a claim when he was denied the right to have a trade union representative accompany him to a disciplinary hearing. He argued that he should be considered a worker under section 230(3)(b) of the Employment Rights Act 1996.

The CRS, which engages around 3500 volunteers, had a volunteer handbook outlining expectations. While the handbook emphasised the voluntary nature of the appointment, it allowed volunteers to claim costs for certain activities. However, the tribunal initially ruled that Mr. Martin was not a worker due to the absence of a contract with the CRS. The lack of automatic remuneration and varying claims by volunteers factored into this decision.

On appeal, the EAT disagreed. It held that a contract existed when a volunteer attended an activity with a right to remuneration. The EAT emphasised that volunteer status depends on the specific arrangement between parties. Consequently, Mr. Martin was deemed a worker.

In some ways, the decision is a logical one. The very fact that there was a disciplinary hearing points to the exercise of an element of control over Mr Martin by CRS which, in turn, points towards there being a contract. However, the significance of this case lies in the clarification that a contract can exist between a volunteer and an organisation, even if remuneration is not automatic. The ruling highlights the importance of reviewing specific arrangements and codes of conduct to ensure that volunteers are not inadvertently being turned into ‘workers’ with the rights that come with that.

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