In this third blog in our series on the government's consultation on sexual harassment in the workplace, published on 11 July 2019, we touch on the government's consultation regarding the treatment of volunteers and interns under the Equality Act 2010.
The government's view (which is borne out by successive independent reports) is that in reality, the vast majority of "interns" are in fact workers or employees by another label, and are already covered by the Equality Act – and should be paid National Minimum Wage, though that is a topic for another day. The consultation therefore focuses on the protection of volunteers, who are not currently protected. This appears a sensible approach: the status and protection of interns in the UK is a much wider topic, which, in our view, will require further government intervention in due course. However, it is a topic that will be better dealt with in the round.
The extension of Equality Act protection to voluntary workers, which may include all workplace protections and not just protection from harassment, or sexual harassment, raises some issues. Volunteers, as the consultation recognises, come in a great variety, from volunteer workers with regular working hours, for example in a charity shop, to parents who volunteer on an ad hoc basis at the school sports day. To deal with this issue, the consultation suggests that different categories of volunteers, or alternatively different categories of organisations working with volunteers, could be identified so that protections can be extended to some volunteers without placing undue burden on the sector as a whole.
The proposals in relation to better protecting volunteers, who are giving their time without seeking remuneration, appear very sensible, and the government is clearly aware of the need to take a proportionate approach. In comparison to some of the other proposals made in the consultation, these proposals are at an early stage. We therefore expect that it will be some time before concrete legislative changes are brought forward.