Workers will have a statutory right to take unpaid ‘emergency volunteering leave’ under the recent Coronavirus Act 2020 (the ‘Act’). This legislation is in place for the next two years.
What is emergency volunteering leave under the Act?
In order to provide greater support to the NHS, workers will be entitled to take a period of emergency volunteering leave (“EVL”) and 2, 3 or 4 consecutive week ‘blocks’ of EVL may be taken in any 16-week period.
Who is entitled to take emergency volunteering leave?
Those who have been certified by an ‘appropriate authority’ (a local authority, the NHS Commissioning Board or the Department of Health) to act as an emergency volunteer in health or social care are eligible to take EVL.
What does this mean for those who wish to volunteer?
Those wishing to take EVL will be able to do so provided that they give their employer at least three working days’ notice and can produce the certificate issued by the appropriate authority. Workers should however note that the right to take EVL does not include a right to payment and, as such, there is no obligation for an employer to pay the worker their wages during such period.
Workers may however make a claim to the government for compensation in respect of their loss of earnings, travel costs and subsistence expenses. It is not yet clear if there will be any limit on the amounts workers will be able to claim.
How will this affect employers?
In most cases, employers may not refuse the worker’s request to take EVL and may not treat workers differently or subject them to a detriment as a result of the person taking EVL. However, employers with fewer than 10 workers are not required to agree to requests to take EVL.
Workers undertaking EVL remain employed by their employer and are entitled to the benefit of all of the terms and conditions of employment (except remuneration) that would have applied had the worker not been absent.
In addition, a worker undertaking a period of EVL will be entitled to return to the job in which the worker was employed prior to their absence. They have the right to return on no less favourable terms and conditions than was the case before the worker undertook a period of EVL.
Employers should also take care not to dismiss an employee for taking EVL as it will be automatically unfair to dismiss an employee for that reason.