The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) has published a blog concerning the proposal to extend the Equality Act protections that currently apply to employees to apply to others, including volunteers. This would mean volunteers, as well as employees, could bring claims for discrimination or harassment.
They want to make charities aware of these proposals and to get their feedback. Clearly there is a very important challenge here to make sure that everything is done to prevent sexual harassment while also recognising the potential consequences for charities and volunteer managers of some of these proposals.
In an additional challenge, the consultation asks about the possibility of creating two legal categories of volunteering where only volunteers at larger organisations or in formal roles would be covered by the law, while others would not be.
The consultation itself is ambiguous on how these new rights would be enforced. The normal legal backstop for claims of sexual harassment at work is an employment tribunal. The logical conclusion of the consultation’s proposals on extending Equality Act rights to volunteers would be some sort of access to tribunals of some sort. This could see charities liable for the actions of volunteers over whom they have little direct control. The proposals could also see them liable for failing to protect staff or volunteers from harassment by members of the public or service users.
NCVO is seeking legal advice on what the full implications of some of these proposals could be. But in responding to the consultation they are very keen to have taken feedback.