Employment status – Getting it right

The recent case of Groom v Maritime and Coast Guard Agency (MCA) [2024] is a useful reminder that how an individual is described in a contract does not always determine employment status.

It is the reality of the situation that is the determining factor.


Mr Groom was treated as a volunteer for the MCA. There was a volunteer agreement and handbook in place clearly describing him as a volunteer, including stating:

  • There was no obligation on MCA to provide volunteers with work or for volunteers to accept work
  • Volunteers had to comply with MCA’s code of conduct
  • Volunteers were permitted to claim monthly expenses - the amount they received depended upon various factors which included what activity/work they were undertaking and when
  • Payslips were provided and P60’s were issued at the end of each tax year

Mr Groom’s position with MCA was terminated following a disciplinary hearing. He made a claim in the Employment Tribunal (ET) that he was entitled to be accompanied by a trade union representative at his disciplinary hearing. This required him to show that he was in fact a worker and not a volunteer.

Tribunal decisions

The ET decided that Mr Groom was not a worker, he was a volunteer and as such had no right to be accompanied. Mr Groom appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) and they concluded that he was in fact a worker:

  • During the times he was undertaking work/activity as he received payments for these
  • A contract came into existence every time he carried out such activity/work
  • It did not matter that some volunteers did not make claim for payments
  • There was a code of conduct that set out minimum levels of attendance, training and incidents

How we can help

We have created a useful checklist to help you establish employment status, which you can access in our Members Area. Our Summer magazine includes an article focusing on getting employment status right and there is also a chapter in your Employment Service Manual. For any specific questions, NFU Employment Service members can contact the Helpline on 0370 840 0234.