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Emergency Volunteering Leave – a guide to rights during COVID-19 crisis

Jane Crosby, Partner, in Employment team - Hart Brown Solicitors

Following the call to the British public for volunteers to support front line NHS,  caring and emergency workers during this COVID19 emergency a significant number of people have signed up.

The Coronavirus Act 2020 is now in force and makes provision for workers to take  emergency leave from their employment to volunteer to help the essential care services.

A volunteering period takes place during a block of 16 weeks and an eligible worker may take one period of two, three or four weeks leave in any 16 week period.  The provisions do not apply to employers with less than 10 employees or the civil service.

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.

If an employee wants to volunteer they must give their employer three working days’ notice in writing and produce an emergency leave certificate from a relevant health or social care authority proving that they have signed up to be a volunteer.  Employers are unable to refuse this request for business reasons.

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.

In the meantime, a request by a worker to volunteer under these provisions should not prevent this individual being furloughed in the meantime where this is necessary for a business to survive.

The recent guidance issued by HMRC makes clear that an individual can volunteer even when they are on furlough leave.

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