On 26 March 2020, the government outlined future plans to introduce more volunteering. The purpose was to assist the health and social care sector during the outbreak.
Naturally, there is increased pressure being placed on the sector by coronavirus. And, staff are more likely to become sick in potentially large numbers. So, the aim of the Government plan is to provide a larger pool of volunteers to offer further support and enable the sector to cope with demand.
Emergency Volunteer Leave
What is it?
Emergency Volunteering Leave allows certain workers to take unpaid statutory leave. These workers can then volunteer in relevant health and social care authorities. Unlike normal volunteering arrangements, eligible workers don’t need permission from an organisation to take this leave.
Workers using the plan are legally protected from suffering a detriment, or a dismissal, as a result of taking the leave. And, they’ll have the right to return to the same job they had previously. When they return to their job, they’ll have all of their terms and conditions intact. Those who are mistreated will be able to bring a claim against the organisation, potentially resulting in unlimited compensation.
The right to take Emergency Volunteer Leave is expected to be clarified further in upcoming regulations. It’s currently unknown when, or if, it will come into place. However, it should be noted this is a separate provision to the NHS volunteering scheme.
Who is entitled to Emergency Volunteer Leave?
Any worker, including zero-hours workers, will be entitled to take the leave. Of course, this is provided they are suitably skilled and experienced in the field they wish to volunteer. To prove this, they will be given an emergency volunteering certificate from a relevant health and social care authority. A copy of the certificate must be provided to the organisation, plus three working days’ notice at least, before they take the leave.
Who is exempt from Emergency Volunteer Leave?
Generally, workers who meet eligibility can insist on taking the leave, however, there are workers who are exempt from being able to do this. Exempt workers are:
- Workers for employers who have less than 10 employers
- Crown employees and parliamentary employees
- Workers in the police and military
- Those specified by the Secretary of State in future regulations.
How long can you take Emergency Volunteer Leave?
Workers will be able to take the leave in blocks of two, three or four weeks depending on need. They will only be able to take one period of leave per 16 weeks, and the government is expected to consult on subsequent leave.
Can those who take Emergency Volunteer Leave be paid?
Those volunteering are entitled to benefit from all of their usual terms and conditions of employment. Pay is the exception.
Employers don’t have to pay staff who take this leave although they may choose to do so.
For workers that take leave, it is expected that the government will compensate them for expenses such as travel and food. How this would work in practice is also to be outlined in future regulations.
In regards to pension contributions during the leave, this should be treated in the same way as workers who are on maternity leave. In other words, you should treat time on Emergency Volunteer Leave as though the worker was working normally—meaning contributions will still need to be made. Employer contributions should be based on normal rates of pay. Employee contributions should be based on their pay during the leave.
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