Over half a million people have already signed up to help out in the current Covid-19 crisis, following the Government's call for volunteers.
It’s great to see the country coming together and helping out in this way, but what does it mean for employers and employees?
Rules on the new Emergency Volunteering Leave have now been published and here are the answers to the most frequently asked questions:
What is emergency volunteering leave?
It allows workers to leave their main job and volunteer temporarily in the NHS or social care sector. An ‘appropriate authority’, such as a local authority, an NHS Commissioning Board or the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, will have to certify an individual to act as an emergency volunteer.
How much leave can an employee take?
The period of leave must be either two, three or four weeks long, and must be specified in the certificate received from the appropriate authority, which must be provided to the employer.
Workers can take one period of leave in each ‘volunteering period’. Initially, there will be one 16-week volunteering period, but subsequent volunteering periods may be set by the Secretary of State.
Can I refuse to let my workers take the leave?
There is no provision for employers to refuse leave. The volunteer will be able to take the leave if they give their employer three working days’ notice.
Will I have to pay employees on emergency volunteering leave?
There is no right to payment and so there is no obligation on the employer to pay wages during a period of leave. However, the employee will be entitled to benefit from all the other terms and conditions of employment that would have applied if they had not been absent.
So how will I manage financially if I volunteer?
The Secretary of State is to set up arrangements for paying compensation to volunteers in respect of loss of earnings and travel and subsistence expenses. Further details are awaited so we don’t know whether it will replace all lost earnings or be subject to a cap. It could just be a flat rate.
Will my job be at risk if I volunteer?
No. It will be unlawful to subject a worker to a detriment for having taken, or asked to take, emergency volunteering leave. It will be automatically unfair to dismiss an employee for the same reason. Also, the employee will be entitled to return to the job in which they were employed before the absence on no less favourable terms and conditions.
NOTE; The emergency volunteering leave provisions are contained in the Coronavirus Act 2020, which received Royal Assent yesterday (25 March 2020). However, they require secondary legislation, and so will only take effect on a date appointed by the Government.
Downing Street has increased to 750,000 its target for volunteers to help the NHS cope with coronavirus, after half a million Britons came forward in the first 24 hours.