Emergency volunteering leave

The Coronavirus Act 2020 received Royal Assent yesterday and introduces ‘emergency volunteering leave’. This enables employees to take unpaid time off work and volunteer temporarily as an emergency volunteer within the NHS or social care. Although the employer does not pay the employee during this period of leave, the employee will be compensated for their loss of earnings from a compensation fund.

An appropriate authority, such as a local authority, can certify that an individual is able to act as an emergency volunteer. That individual is then able to take emergency volunteering leave.

The employee has to give the employer 3 working days’ notice prior to taking emergency volunteering leave and produce a certificate to the employer confirming that he/she has been approved as an emergency worker.

An employee can take 2, 3 or 4 weeks leave, but the period of time will be confirmed in the certificate, and can take one period of leave in each volunteering period. Initially, the volunteering period is 16 weeks beginning on the day the legislation comes into force and further volunteering periods can be set by the Secretary of State.

Currently, except for businesses with fewer than 10 employees, there is no provision for employers to refuse employees taking this leave. Although employers do not need to pay employees during a period of leave, employees will still be entitled to the benefit of all the other terms and conditions in their employment contracts. On an employee’s return to work from the period of leave he/she will have the right to return to the same job they were employed in before and on no less favourable terms. Employees will also have the right not to be subjected to a detriment or dismissal on the grounds of taking this leave. If an employee is dismissed for taking this leave, there will be an automatic unfair dismissal and the award the employee could receive is uncapped.

Although most of the Coronavirus Act is now in force, this measure requires secondary legislation and so will not take effect until this secondary legislation has been put in place.

If you have any queries regarding the Emergency volunteering leave or any other employment law issue please contact our Employment team.