Announced in the Coronavirus Bill last month, the government intends to introduce a temporary right to statutory emergency volunteering leave to enable workers, employees and agency staff to take unpaid leave to volunteer in health and social care.
Coronavirus impact and volunteering
If the proposed entitlement is taken forward, workers can choose to take unpaid volunteer leave in blocks of two, three or four weeks, including while on furlough. But at this stage there are limited details about the scheme and when, or if, it will be put in place.
To ensure volunteers are not financially disadvantaged by helping with coronavirus relief, the government would also bring in a UK-wide fund to compensate volunteers for their loss of earnings and expenses at a flat rate, so long as they have volunteered through an “appropriate” authority, such as a local authority or the NHS commissioning board.
More than 750,000 people signed up to be part of the NHS “volunteer army” – three times the government target. They will shortly receive tasks to complete through mobile app GoodSam, which will be used by pharmacists, health professionals and local authorities to request help.
Government guidance issued following the publication of the Coronavirus Bill said the temporary statutory leave entitlement was being considered because “volunteers play a critical role in the delivery of health and social care services and are particularly important in caring for the most vulnerable in our society, such as the elderly, those with multiple long-term conditions or those suffering from mental ill-health”.
Jane Crosby, a partner at Hart Brown Solicitors, said: “Although the leave is unpaid as far as the employer is concerned, the proposed regulations appear to suggest that the government will compensate a worker for any loss of earnings and travel costs.
“All of the worker’s employment rights are protected and the contract of employment still continues. If anyone is dismissed because they have requested this leave then it will be deemed automatically unfair. It is difficult to believe any company would dismiss an employee taking a leave of absence for this reason.
“We are now waiting for the relevant statutory regulations to bring this new right into force and also to provide details of how employees who take volunteering leave will be compensated.”
Employees must give their organisation three days’ notice in writing and produce a certificate from the authority permitting them to volunteer if they wish to take emergency volunteer leave. Employers are unable to refuse the request for business reasons.
The first volunteering period in which workers can use the entitlement will be 16 weeks beginning on the day the provisions come into force – a date yet to be announced.
Those who work for organisations with fewer than 10 staff, Crown employees and police officers will not be eligible to take emergency volunteer leave.