The Court of Appeal has recently confirmed that volunteers are not protected by discrimination legislation. In January 2011 a decision was handed down which confirmed that unpaid volunteers are not protected because they are not considered to be either “employees” or “workers” under the discrimination legislation.
The case in question dealt with discrimination under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, however it would apply to all discrimination legislation. There is no reason to suspect that any different decision would have been reached had the matter been brought under the Equality Act 2010, which has replaced the majority of discrimination legislation since October 2010.
Theoretically, this means that organisations dealing with volunteers would be able to “hire and fire” them on grounds that would not normally be permissible. The moral of this tale is not however that charities can discriminate, but the importance of ensuring that volunteers are legally identifiable as such. That means ensuring volunteer agreements do not create any obligations on the volunteer to take work or on the organisation to provide it, nor should there be any remuneration paid to volunteers other than for appropriately vouched expenses. It should also be borne in mind that volunteers who are providing their services to a charity with a view to securing future employment can gain the protection of discrimination legislation.