The Coronavirus Act 2020 which came into force on the 25th of March 2020 introduces a new statutory right to take emergency volunteering leave (EVL). It comes as no surprise that such measures were introduced, given that health and social care workers are under immense pressure to continue providing services and early signs show levels of absenteeism have increased. In order to incentivise those who may be able to provide critical support, the government have introduced a variety of measures to address these pinch-points. One of them being the introduction of an EVL scheme.
What is EVL?
The leave was introduced as part of emergency measures to help tackle the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and is a new concept. Statutory Emergency Volunteering Leave (EVL) will enable workers, employees and agency staff to take unpaid leave to volunteer in health and social care. This could include a local council, district council or the NHS for example. As EVL is a statutory right, workers and employees must not suffer detriments or be treated unfairly when exercising this right, although further regulations are required to formally implement the Act in this regard.
How do people apply for EVL?
Where an individual wants to volunteer, and in order to take EVL from their ordinary paid employment, they need to obtain an emergency volunteering certificate from the appropriate authority. EVL can only be taken once in any “volunteering period” which last for 16-weeks. The first one began on the 25th of March 2020 at which point the government may decide to set another period.
Employees or workers can choose to take unpaid volunteer leave in blocks of two, three or four weeks, including while on furlough leave. However, changing from furlough leave to EVL would stop their period of furlough leave, and would mean they are ineligible for furlough pay during this period. The 3-week minimum furlough claim period will still apply.
Do I have to pay them while they are on EVL?
The regulations suggest that a compensatory scheme will be introduced to financially compensate those for loss of earnings and expenses involved with their volunteer work, to ensure they are not disadvantaged by playing a key role. As yet, there are no further details on what this scheme might look like, and the secondary legislation will hopefully clarify. All other employment rights will remain in tact for the employee in the same way they would for any other leave taken, e.g sick leave, maternity leave.
Am I able to say no?
Generally, no, as this is a statutory right. However, there is an automatic exemption if you have a headcount of less than ten staff. If you employ ten or more individuals, you must grant EVL requests provided that the employee follows the relevant procedure, which involves giving written notice to the employer.
There are other categories of employees and workers exempted from insisting on EVL, which include those working in the Police and Military, Crown employees, Parliamentary employees and those others as specified by the Secretary of State.