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In the recent case, Groom v Maritime & Coastguard Agency [2024], the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) made a significant determination regarding the employment status of volunteers entitled to remuneration for specific activities. This ruling sheds light on the evolving landscape of worker classification within volunteer arrangements.

Mr Martin, a volunteer in the Coastal Rescue Service (CRS), brought forth a claim asserting his status as a worker under section 230(3)(b) of the Employment Rights Act 1996. His contention arose from being denied the right to be accompanied by a trade union representative at a disciplinary hearing.

The CRS, comprising approximately 3,500 volunteers, operated under a volunteer handbook outlining the expectations and parameters of volunteer engagement. The handbook articulated that volunteers were entitled to claim costs for certain activities to cover expenses and compensate for any disruptions to personal life and employment, including unsocial hours call outs.


Initially, the tribunal ruled against Mr Martin’s classification as a worker, emphasising the absence of a contractual agreement between him and CRS. The tribunal’s decision leaned on the discretionary nature of remuneration claims, with many volunteers opting not to avail themselves of this entitlement.

However, on appeal, the EAT overturned the tribunal’s decision, reframing the narrative surrounding volunteer arrangements. The EAT rejected the notion of a distinct category for volunteer relationships, highlighting the absence of a concrete definition for “volunteer.” Instead, it emphasised the variability of volunteer status contingent upon the specific terms agreed upon by the parties involved.

Crucially, the EAT emphasised that the mere fact that remuneration was not automatically provided, and some volunteers chose not to claim it, did not negate the existence of a contractual relationship. The EAT ruled that a contract materialised when a volunteer engaged in activities for which they were entitled to remuneration, as outlined in the volunteer handbook.

The EAT’s decision underscored the significance of a volunteer’s attendance at activities governed by established codes of conduct and minimum participation requirements. These elements were deemed sufficient to establish a contractual agreement for the provision of services, rather than merely reimbursing expenses incurred.

Importantly, the EAT refrained from definitively addressing whether Mr Martin qualified as a worker during periods of unremunerated activities, leaving this aspect open for future deliberation.

Key takeaways for employers

In conclusion, the Groom case signifies a pivotal development in delineating the employment status of volunteers, particularly concerning entitlements to remuneration. It reinforces the principle that volunteer arrangements are not inherently distinct from traditional employment relationships and underscores the importance of contractual clarity and adherence to established guidelines in volunteer engagements.

This case serves as a microcosm of the broader discourse surrounding volunteer rights and responsibilities. Volunteers contribute invaluable time and effort to organisations, often assuming roles that carry significant responsibilities. However, the absence of a formal employment relationship can sometimes blur the lines of accountability and entitlement.

Organisations engaging volunteers must navigate a delicate balance between harnessing their contributions and safeguarding their rights. Clear communication of expectations, outlined in volunteer handbooks or agreements, is essential to establish mutual understanding and mitigate potential disputes. Moreover, organisations must uphold duty of care towards volunteers, ensuring their well-being and providing necessary support and resources.

Conversely, volunteers must familiarise themselves with their rights within the context of their engagements. Understanding the terms of their involvement, including entitlements to remuneration or representation in disciplinary proceedings, empowers volunteers to advocate for their interests effectively.

In a broader context, the Groom case underscores the importance of legal clarity and adherence to established guidelines in volunteer engagements. While volunteers play a vital role in advancing social causes, ensuring their rights are upheld is paramount to maintaining the integrity and sustainability of volunteer-driven initiatives.

As organisations and volunteers continue to collaborate towards shared objectives, clarity, transparency, and mutual respect remain foundational principles in fostering positive and productive volunteer relationships.

Please note that this information is for general guidance only and should not substitute professional legal advice. If you have specific concerns, we recommend consulting one of our legal experts.


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