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Employment law for employees & Employment law for employers

Coronavirus: Key questions about Emergency Volunteering Leave

Last week the Coronavirus Act 2020 was passed in Parliament which implemented a number of new measures to help get the country through this crisis as quickly and as safely as possible. One measure of particular interest to many is the provision which allows employees and workers to take ‘Emergency Volunteering Leave’ to help with the delivery of vital health and social care services during the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Understandably this has left many people wondering what this could mean for them, and, in true British spirit, how they can take advantage of this scheme to help the country at this critical time. In particular, there are five key questions about Emergency Volunteering Leave.

1.  I want to help. How long can I volunteer for and how does the system work?

Emergency Volunteering Leave means that in order to support essential health and social care services, all workers will be able to take emergency leave. Leave can be taken in blocks of 2, 3 or 4 consecutive weeks in any period of 16 weeks. This means the minimum is two weeks, with a maximum of four weeks. Leave is taken in weekly blocks; you can’t do one or two days per week and more the following week.

2.  What do I need to do to take Emergency Volunteering Leave?

First you need to be approved as an emergency volunteer by the appropriate authority (for example, the NHS Commissioning Board or your local authority) and give your employer at least three working days’ notice (weekend days and bank holidays do not count). You also need to present your employer with a certificate from the appropriate authority confirming that you have been approved as an emergency volunteer. That certificate must also specify the start date for the leave and how long you will be volunteering.

3.  Can my employer refuse my request for Emergency Volunteering Leave?

Your employer can only refuse your request if there are fewer than ten people in the business. Otherwise, your employer must agree to your request provided you have satisfied the provisions above.

Certain workers (Crown employees, Parliamentary employees and police officers) are excluded from the scheme.

4.  Will I be paid whilst on Emergency Volunteering Leave?

As far as your employer is concerned, your Emergency Volunteering Leave will be treated as statutory unpaid leave. You will still be employed, and all the provisions of your contract apart from remuneration for the duration of the Emergency Volunteering Leave , will remain the same. Therefore you will not be paid by your employer while you are volunteering.

The Act does, however, compel the government to establish a UK-wide compensation fund to compensate for loss of earnings and expenses incurred at a flat rate for anyone who volunteers through an appropriate authority.

It is not yet clear whether the compensation fund has a cap per person or if it will repay volunteers all their loss of earnings.

5.  Can I be dismissed, or will my job change if I take Emergency Volunteering Leave?

Workers who take Emergency Volunteering Leave have the right to return to their job on the same terms and conditions of employment as before the period of leave.  Workers also have a right not to be subjected to any detriment for taking Emergency Volunteering Leave or because their employer thinks they are likely to do so.

If an employee is dismissed or selected for redundancy because they took Emergency Volunteering Leave or because their employer thought they were likely to do so, this can give rise to a claim of automatic unfair dismissal for which there will be no qualifying period of employment and compensation is uncapped.

As with everything Covid-19 related, this is a rapidly developing area. If you have any specific questions please contact the Collyer Bristow Employment Team and we would be happy to help.

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Kathryn Burke

Trainee Solicitor

kathryn.burke@collyerbristow.com