A recent decision of the Supreme Court in X v Mid Sussex CAB has established that volunteers without a legally binding contract are not protected by either domestic or EU anti-discrimination law. In this case, it was alleged that a volunteer had been prevented from continuing to volunteer at a CAB because of their disability, namely because they were HIV positive, and therefore was seeking redress in the Employment Tribunal.

Discrimination legislation gives protection to those who are working under a “contract personally to do any work”, and it was found as a matter of fact in this case that there was no legally binding contract between the CAB and the volunteer.

While this result will be a relief for organisations like the CAB, it is important to emphasise that it rests on the finding by the lower courts that the volunteer agreement was not legally binding. It is still possible to envisage cases where a volunteer is able to persuade an Employment Tribunal that a binding contract did exist, perhaps because in practice the organisation involved imposed the same kind of obligations on the volunteer as it would on a paid worker.

In addition, volunteers come in many forms and those volunteers who are seeking vocational training and/or practical work experience would have protection under European discrimination legislation that could be enforced in our domestic courts.