The Coronavirus Act 2020 has now come into force which introduces a number of immediate emergency measures in response to the current Covid-19 pandemic. As well as some employment-related changes, the Act provides for a new right to take emergency volunteering leave. Further regulations will need to be passed in order to bring the new right into effect.
What is emergency volunteering leave?
Workers will be entitled to take unpaid leave from their current job to volunteer at certain organisations in the NHS and social care sector.
Workers are required to give 3 working days’ notice in writing before they take emergency volunteering leave. They must also provide a certificate to their employer which is issued by the appropriate authority and confirms they have been approved to volunteer and the period for which they will be volunteering.
The period specified in the certificate can be two, three or four consecutive weeks and must begin and end in the same ‘volunteering period’. The initial volunteering period will be for 16 weeks once the right comes into force and there may be subsequent volunteering periods set by the Secretary of State.
Who is entitled to take emergency volunteering leave?
All workers will be entitled to take the leave, with the exception of:
- Workers who work for small employers with fewer than 10 employees
- Civil servants
- Those who work for the legislature (member of House of Lords staff, member of House of Commons staff and equivalent bodies in Wales, Scotland and Ireland)
- Police officers
- Anyone else specified in the future regulations
What will volunteers be entitled to?
The right to emergency volunteering leave does not include a right to pay so employers are not required to pay wages during a period of leave but all other terms and conditions of an employee’s employment must remain the same.
Employees will be entitled to return to their same job after their volunteering period is finished on no less favourable terms and conditions than before their period of leave.
It will be unlawful to subject an employee or worker to detriment for exercising their right to emergency volunteering leave and it will be automatic unfair dismissal if an employer dismisses an employee for taking or proposing to take the leave.
Under the Act, the Secretary of State must also make arrangements for compensating loss of earnings and travelling and subsistence costs of the emergency volunteers. This is only applicable where a volunteer has suffered a loss of earnings because they have taken emergency volunteering leave. How much will be reimbursed and how to claim compensation has not yet been determined.
Employment law expert, Nick Benton comments:
"A record number of volunteers have already signed up to help those on the front line combat the Covid-19 virus. It is important to note that there are no provisions for an employer to refuse to allow a worker to take emergency volunteering leave nor can they dismiss them for exercising this right. I am sure in these uncertain and unprecedented times many employers will be actively encouraging their workers to volunteer if they are able, given the wide definition of those who can apply for leave.
Further information about who can volunteer and how to sign up can be found here. If you would like any further guidance on how to prepare for this upcoming change please do not hesitate to get in touch with a member of the team.”
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