Volunteers without contracts are not covered by anti-discrimination legislation for workers, the Court of Appeal has ruled.
The judgement was made yesterday in a case involving a female volunteer, referred to as X, who claimed she had been discriminated against on the grounds of disability when she was asked to stop volunteering for the Mid Sussex Citizens Advice Bureau.
However, the court upheld previous employment tribunal rulings and found that X did not come under the scope of the legislation because she did not have a contract with the CAB and was unpaid. The case had been heard by two employment tribunals and one appeal.
Lord Justice Elias, one of the three judges, said it was "far from obvious that it would be thought desirable to include volunteers within the scope of the discrimination legislation relating to employment".
Volunteering organisations have told Third Sector that they sometimes have informal written agreements with volunteers that are not enforceable in the courts. Contracts are not regarded as best practice because it means volunteers can go to employment tribunals.
Jason Galbraith-Marten, a barrister from the employment and discrimination chambers Cloisters, which represented the CAB, said after the hearing that this was a significant victory for the voluntary sector.
"This is because much of the sector is reliant on volunteers, and cannot shoulder the financial burden that enhanced rights for volunteers such as X would bring," he said.
"The need to make adjustments for the disabled, and the cost of litigation, successful or otherwise, that would be generated from the extension of anti-discrimination rights, would be too great a financial burden for many of them to bear."
No one from Mid Sussex CAB or the EHRC was available for comment.