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Could a volunteer in the Coastal Rescue Service be a ‘worker’ in relation to activities he performed personally?

Yes, held the Employment Appeal Tribunal in Groom v Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

The Claimant was a Coastal Rescue Officer for the Respondent. He worked under a volunteer agreement. He carried-out some activities for no payment. He was entitled to be paid for many other activities – if he submitted a claim for payment. The Claimant was dismissed by the Respondent. He brought a claim in relation to the right to be accompanied at a disciplinary hearing. Only employees and workers have this right. To be classified as a worker, the Claimant had to show that he had a contract with the Respondent under which he undertook to perform services personally.

The tribunal held that the Claimant was not a worker as, on reviewing the relationship, no contract existed between the Claimant and the Respondent when he attended an activity. 

The Claimant appealed. The EAT substituted a finding that the Claimant was a worker during the periods when he was undertaking an activity with promised payment. A contract clearly came into effect each time the Claimant carried-out an activity with the promise of remuneration. It was irrelevant that payment was not made automatically and that many volunteers chose not to make a claim for the payment. The EAT held - "When a Coastal Rescue Officer attends a relevant activity, they have a right to remuneration. They attend in the context of a Code of Conduct which sets out minimum levels of attendance at training and incidents. …There is no reason why those factors should not give rise to a contract."

The question of whether a contract existed when the Claimant carried-out unpaid activities was remitted.