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Can a volunteer ever be classed as a worker?

By May 28, 2024Employment

Whether someone is classed as a volunteer or a worker is an important distinction as the legal rights protecting the two are very different. For example, unlike a worker, a volunteer is not entitled to the National Minimum Wage, paid annual leave, or any protection under the Equality Act 2010 or Employment Rights Act 1996. This may seem relatively obvious as a volunteer is volunteering their time for no remuneration, although the recent Employment Appeal Tribunal case of Groom v Maritime and Coastguard Agency has added some further analysis on the issue. 

In this case, the Claimant was a Coastal Rescue Officer, and acted under a volunteering agreement. He was allowed, however, to submit a claim for payment for some of his activities, which he did receive on a regular basis.  

The Respondent had brought the Claimant to an internal disciplinary hearing without providing the Claimant with the right to be accompanied. This is a standard right for workers, but not volunteers. The Claimant decided to make a claim against the Respondent, as they believed that they should have been given the right to bring a companion to the disciplinary hearing.  

The Tribunal initially took the view that, as the Claimant was a volunteer and not a worker, he was not entitled to the statutory protections, and therefore held in favour of the Respondent. 

The Employment Appeal Tribunal disagreed with this outcome and held that the Claimant was actually classed as a worker every time he undertook an activity with promised payment. This is because a contract came into place every time the Claimant carried out work that he was promised payment for, following normal contract law principles.  

This therefore serves as a warning to employers who have volunteers that if payment is made to them at any point, even as a ‘one-off’, they could be seen as being a worker in the eyes of the Tribunal, and therefore be entitled to the usual statutory protections.  

If you would like any further information or advice regarding volunteers, or any other area of employment law, please contact the employment team at

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Ryan Baratzi

Author Ryan Baratzi

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