Employment Status – coastal rescue and volunteers

Employment Status – coastal rescue and volunteers

Employment status, the subject of so many employment tribunal claims, comes under the heading ‘jurisdiction’ as is must be determined whether the employment tribunals have scope to hear some claims.  Whether someone is a worker or an employee will also determine what claims they can bring.  This was the case in Groom v Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

Mr Groom was a Coastal Rescue Officer for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and worked under a volunteer agreement.  He did some work without pay. He was entitled to be paid for certain activities if he submitted a claim to be paid. Mr Groom was dismissed by the Respondent and brought a claim in relation to being allowed to have a companion attend his disciplinary hearing. This right is limited to workers and employees. In order to demonstrate that he had worker status Mr Groom had to show that his contract with the Respondent obliged him to perform services personally.

The Employment Tribunal determined that Mr Groom was not a worker as no contract existed between the parties when he undertook an activity. Mr Groom appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) which substituted a finding that Mr Groom was in fact a worker for the periods where he carried out an activity for which he was promised payment. The EAT held that a contract came into effect every time Mr Groom performed a task with payment promised on conclusion. The fact that the payment was voluntary and many volunteers did not make a claim for payment was irrelevant.    

The case was remitted (returned) to the Employment Tribunal as the EAT had held that given the right of remuneration and the application of a Code of Conduct, those factors gave rise to a contract.  

Employment status is tricky and fraught with issues. Each case for status will turn on its facts and the reality of the working relationship between the parties not the label attached to it.

This blog was written by Elizabeth McGlone, Partner at didlaw