Are you a business owner or human resources professional?

If you are, you need to know about the Coronavirus Act 2020; which came in on the 26th March and included statutory emergency volunteering leave.

This is designed to support the health and social care services during these challenging times, and in this blog, we take you through all the 'need to knows'.

What's the background?

The National Health Service (NHS) and social agencies have come under significant strain during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

In order to support these crucial organisations, the Coronavirus Act 2020 allows certain types of workers to take emergency volunteering leave (EVL), which is both unpaid and statutory, and become a volunteer for the NHS or social care agencies.

The absenteeism rate for companies as a result of this rule has been capped at 30 per cent.

It is recognised that workers who wish to volunteer under these regulations will have to possess a suitable skill set for the field in which they wish to volunteer.

In addressing two typical obstacles to workers volunteering - loss of income and the compromising of job security - the EVL aims to mobilise the largest number of suitable volunteers.

As An Employer, What Do I Need To Know?

Entitlement

Workers are within their rights to take EVL if they have obtained an emergency volunteering certificate (EVC), which would be provided by the health or social care services organisation.

EVCs will be awarded subject to the applicant having the right skills and experience.

Employers need to be given a minimum of three working days written notice by workers in advance of EVL, as well as a copy of the worker's EVC.

Who is exempted from EVL?

Some types of workers are not allowed to take EVL. These include; parliamentary and crown employees; employees in company's with less than ten workers; military; police; and those specified in future regulations by the Secretary of State.

What is the length of EVL?

EVL is taken over two, three or four week periods. Only one EVL period can be taken in 16 weeks.

EVL Terms And Conditions

Terms and conditions

The regulations set out that "workers will be entitled to the benefit of and be bound by their obligations under all of their terms and conditions of employment, except in relation to remuneration (which is defined as wages or salary)".

Right to return

On returning to their job, workers have the right to the same employment terms and conditions which applied prior to them taking EVL.

Pension Schemes

The Coronavirus Act 2020 has adopted the same model as maternity leave, which is set out in s.75 Equality Act 2010.

This means that pensions schemes will need to treat the time which is spent on EVL for pension purposes, including the continuing accrual of benefits, as if the worker was working as normal.

In terms of the employer's pension contributions - these will be based on the pay which the employee would receive under normal circumstances, whereas employee pension contributions will be derived from the actual amount of an employee's pay during EVL.

Changes to The Employment Rights Act

There have been some important changes to The Employment Rights Act brought about by the Coronavirus Act 2020. These include:

  • Section 47H - workers have the right not to suffer any detriment because they have taken EVL, or because an employer suspects that they will do so.
  • Section 104H - automatic unfair dismissal will be recognised when an employee has been sacked for taking EVL, or because it is believed that they will do so.
  • Section 105(7BC) - automatic unfair dismissal will also be recognised when an employee is chosen for redundancy because they have taken EVL, or because it is believed that they will do so.

For breaches related to these new changes, compensation is uncapped and does not require a qualifying service.

Compensation for workers taking EVL

It should be noted that EVL is unpaid, but there are supplementary regulations which compensate workers for their loss of earnings during EVL. The understanding at the time of writing is that this compensation will be paid directly by the government. If they so choose, employers may continue paying a worker while they are on EVL.

Volunteering outside of EVL regulations

There is nothing to stop anyone volunteering themselves to work for the NHS or social services, regardless of if they are considered suitable under EVL regulations.

When workers wish to volunteer outside of EVL regulations, they will need the expressed agreement of their employer.

At present, volunteers for the NHS are being asked to register through the following site goodsamapp.org/NHS, for volunteering positions including; driving patients to appointments; collecting them from hospital, and making regular telephone calls to check on people who are in isolation at home.

Do you have any questions on employment law related to EVL? Call the experts at Neathouse Partners Ltd today on 01244 893776.

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About the author 

James Rowland

James is the Commercial Director at Neathouse Partners and regularly writes articles surrounding issues in HR & Employment Law. Outside of the office, James is a keen Cricketer, playing in the Cheshire League for Nantwich CC. He also loves going to watch his football team, Crewe Alexandra. Feel free to connect with James on LinkedIn.

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