Emergency Volunteering Leave

Emergency volunteering leave is a new, temporary, statutory right that is available for eligible workers, which enables them to take unpaid leave to help the Health and Social care system respond to the Covid-19 pandemic.

What is emergency volunteering leave?

In order to apply for unpaid emergency volunteering leave, eligible employees must give three working days’ notice in writing to their employer, in the form of an emergency volunteering certificate.

An emergency volunteering leave certificate is issued by the appropriate authority such as the Department of Health, the NHS or a County, District or London Borough Council. Except for those organisations and workers that are exempt (as below), there is no provision for employers to refuse leave under these circumstances.

Who is entitled to take emergency volunteering leave?

All workers are entitled to emergency volunteering leave with the exception of those who are employed by the following organisations, who are exempt:

  • Micro businesses (those with 10 or fewer employees);
  • Crown employees;
  • Military personnel;
  • The police force; and
  • National Insurance assembly and commission staff.

How long can emergency volunteering leave last?

To be eligible, the period of emergency volunteer leave has to last at two to four weeks and has to begin and end in the same volunteering period (a volunteering period is a period of 16 weeks).

A worker can only take one block of volunteering leave; this may constitute one block of two, three, or four weeks off in any 16-week period. That means in theory, a worker could have eight consecutive weeks for emergency volunteering by stacking them back to back at the end and the beginning of two consecutive volunteering periods.

Do employees on emergency volunteering leave get pay and pension?

Emergency volunteering leave is a form of unpaid leave. The Coronavirus Act 2020 does however give the Secretary of State the power to establish a compensation scheme to compensate eligible volunteers for some loss of income and expenses incurred – for example travel and subsistence.

During emergency volunteering leave, an employee will still be entitled to the benefit of all their terms and conditions of employment which would have applied if they had not been absent – except for the terms and conditions relating to remuneration (wages).

The period of absence will be deemed not to have any effect on pension or benefit entitlements.

What protection do those taking emergency volunteering leave get?

Emergency volunteers will have the right not to be subjected to any detriment or a dismissal on the grounds of exercising their right to emergency volunteering leave.

This means that it would be deemed automatically unfair to dismiss someone because they have taken, or propose taking, emergency volunteering leave. Importantly, there is no qualifying period of employment, and the compensatory award is uncapped if someone is successful with such a claim in the Tribunal.

A worker who takes emergency volunteering leave will have the right to return to work after a period of their leave, returning to their normal and current form of employment. This will include returning to their role with the same level of seniority as well as the same rights they would have been entitled to had they not been absent on no less favourable terms.

What if an employee is furloughed?

If an employee is furloughed, they can notify their employer of an intention to take emergency volunteering leave. Whilst on emergency volunteering leave an employee will not be entitled to any pay which they would have received had they been on furlough.

Should you have any further questions, or if you have been subject to a detriment as a result of volunteering or seeking to volunteer, please do not hesitate to get in touch. Our helpline at coronavirus@thrivelaw.co.uk remains open.

By the Thrive Tribe

Anything within this article should not be taken as legal advice. Any information provided will be general advice and for reference purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Specific legal advice about your specific circumstances should always be sought separately before taking or deciding not to take any action. If you wish to obtain specific advice to your situation and your decisions, please contact us and we will thereafter be able to advise.

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