The Supreme Court has ruled that laws to protect workers from discrimination do not cover volunteers unless they have a contract, or are undergoing vocational training.

A Citizens Advice Bureau volunteer, who tried to take her legal claim for the same employment rights as an employee all the way to Europe, has been stopped by the Supreme Court.

This judgment effectively confirms that volunteers are not entitled to the same protections under the law as employees.

In the case of X v Mid Sussex Citizens Advice Bureau, X was an HIV positive CAB volunteer legal advisor who alleged that she was discriminated against because of her disability; however the court unanimously ruled that she had no contract and so could not rely on the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.

X claimed that the discrimination was against European Law and argued that her voluntary work at the CAB – which she did for one-three days a week for over a year – constituted an “occupation”, so she was covered by the legislation which protects workers and people in, or trying to access, an occupation.

The CAB disputed her allegations of discrimination, but also argued that in any case X was not protected by EU anti-discrimination law or domestic law, because she was a volunteer with no binding contact with the CAB.

The CAB successfully applied to strike out her claim, and successfully defended its position before the EAT and the Court of Appeal, and the Supreme Court has now agreed that neither domestic legislation nor European discrimination law applies to persons in X’s situation.

Following the judgment, Lucy McLynn, a Partner at Bates Wells and Braithwaite, who represented the CAB in the case, said:

“Volunteers do not need legal protection. Employees and workers need to be protected because they are reliant on earning a wage. But if a volunteer is discriminated against, they can leave and volunteer for another charity.”