Emergency Volunteering Leave
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.
Health and social care workforces are under increasing pressure in providing services during the current coronavirus pandemic. With a worst case absenteeism rate of up to 30%, the Coronavirus Act 2020 sets out provisions allowing certain workers to take unpaid statutory emergency volunteering leave (“EVL”) in order to volunteer in relevant health and social care authorities.
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?
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.
Terms and conditions
Whilst volunteering, workers will be entitled to the benefit of and be bound by their obligations under all of their terms and conditions of employment, except in relation to remuneration (which is defined as wages or salary).
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.
Right to return
Workers have the right to return to their job on the same terms and conditions of employment as applied prior to the period of volunteering leave.
Pension Scheme rights
The model adopted is the same as for maternity leave (see s.75 Equality Act 2010). Consequently, pension schemes will be deemed to include a provision so that time spent on EVL is treated for pension purposes (including continued accrual of and calculation of benefits) in the same way as if the employee was working normally.
This means that employer pension contributions will need to be based on the employee’s normal pay, but employee pension contributions will be based on the amount of the employee’s actual pay during EVL.
Workers, including agency workers , have the right to take EVL provided that they are in receipt of an “emergency volunteering certificate” (“EVC”) from a relevant health or social care authority. EVCs will be available to those who have suitable medical or social care skills and experience.
Workers must give their employer at least 3 working days advance written notice of EVL and provide a copy of their EVC to their employer.
LENGTH OF EVL
EVL can be taken in periods of two, three or four weeks. Only one period of EVL can be taken in any one 16-week volunteering period, although the Government is able to announce consecutive volunteering periods.
VOLUNTEERS OUTSIDE OF EVL
Although EVL has specific objectives and volunteers to whom it will apply, anyone can put themselves forward as a volunteer. If they are employed, this will need to be done with employer agreement. The NHS in England has already launched its site for volunteers to register goodsamapp.org/NHS and in the first 24 hours it was reported that there had been half a million volunteers.
The site states that volunteers will be asked to do one of the following four types of volunteering:
- Delivering medicines from pharmacies
- Driving patients to appointments
- Bringing them home from the hospital
- Making regular phone calls to check on people isolating at home