The government has also introduced a right for workers to take emergency volunteering leave to help support health and social care services.
The Emergency Volunteering Leave provisions in the Coronavirus Act 2020 provide for “appropriate authorities” (local authorities, the NHS Commissioning Board and Secretary of State for Health and Social Care) to certify workers to act as a volunteer.
The provisions allow workers, including agency workers, to be absent from work for a consecutive period of two, three or four weeks in a 16-week volunteering period provided they give their employer at least three working days’ notice.
They also have to produce a copy of their certificate which shows that they have been approved as a volunteer by the appropriate authority and sets out the period of emergency volunteering leave. There is no provision for the employer to refuse the leave. The 16-week “volunteering period” will start when the provisions come into force.
During the period of leave, an employee is entitled to all the terms and conditions of their employment including matters “connected with the employee’s employment” as if they had been at work, excluding pay.
Once the period of leave is over, they are entitled to return to the same job on no less favourable terms and conditions. Their pension and seniority rights will apply as if they had not been absent on leave. In other words, they have the same rights as someone on maternity and other family leave.
Workers who volunteer also have the right not to be subject to a detriment because they took or sought to take emergency volunteering leave. An employee who is dismissed for the same reasons is treated as being automatically unfairly dismissed. The right not to be automatically unfairly dismissed applies from day one.
There is no right for emergency volunteering leave to be paid. Instead the Act provides that a person is entitled to receive compensation for loss of earnings (where they have suffered a loss of earnings) as well as any expenses incurred for travelling and subsistence.
It is not yet clear how the compensation scheme will work. The legislation simply states that the Secretary of State will make arrangements to set it up as soon as possible.
In terms of furloughed workers on the coronavirus (COVID-19) retention scheme who are being paid 80 per cent of their wage under the scheme, the guidance from HMRC states that they can become volunteers as long as they do not provide services or make any money for their employer.
The right to emergency volunteering leave does not apply where the worker is employed by a business which has fewer than ten staff, the Crown, the police and the military.
Articles shared by Thompsons relating to coronavirus (COVID-19) are correct on the time of publication. You should check the government's guidelines for the latest information and advice at https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus.