Coronavirus Emergency Volunteering Leave (brought in by the Coronavirus Act 2020) is a temporary form of statutory unpaid leave for employees who wish to volunteer in the health and social care sectors during the current crisis.
We set out below the outline of the scheme. However, the Government is yet to publish the regulations which will provide more details of the scheme.
Who can volunteer?
Anyone can volunteer. However, employed individuals must seek their employers’ permission first. All staff (including agency workers) are eligible for EVL and there is no service requirement with an employer for a worker to take EVL.
What will volunteers be asked to do?
- deliver medicines from pharmacies;
- drive patients to appointments;
- bring patients home from hospital; and
- make regular phone calls to check on people isolating at home.
How do staff qualify for EVL?
To qualify for EVL staff must be issued with an “emergency volunteering certificate” (EVL Certificate) by an appropriate authority. This confirms that they have been approved as an emergency volunteer and that they will volunteer for a specified period. Appropriate authorities include:
- a local authority;
- the NHS Commissioning Board; and
- the Department of Health.
Do we need to pay staff on EVL?
EVL is unpaid, so employers are not obliged to pay staff during the time they are taking EVL. However, it is of course open to employers to continue to pay volunteers.
However, the regulations (yet to be published) are expected to confirm that the Government will directly compensate staff taking EVL for loss of earnings and for travelling and subsistence.
What notice do staff have to give us?
Staff must provide their employer with at least three working days’ written notice before the first day of the period specified in the EVL Certificate. They should also confirm the start date and length of their volunteer period and provide a copy of the EVL Certificate.
How long can staff be on EVL?
Staff are able to take EVL in blocks of 2, 3, or 4 weeks every 16 weeks. This means that the maximum volunteer time is four weeks per 16-week period.
What rights do employees have on EVL?
Those staff with the status of ‘employee’ are protected from any detrimental treatment or dismissal due to their taking EVL. Compensation for breach of these rights is uncapped and requires no qualifying length of service.
Employees’ terms and conditions of employment (except those relating to remuneration i.e. wages or salary) continue to apply during EVL and there are protections on pension rights to the effect that employer’s pension contributions will need to be based on workers’ normal pay but their contributions will be based on the amount of actual pay during EVL.
Employees who return to work after a period of EVL are entitled to return to the job in which they were employed before the absence on terms no less favourable.
Can a worker on furlough leave apply for EVL?
The Government Guidance on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme clarifies that it is possible for furloughed workers to participate in volunteer work so long as the work does not generate revenue or provide services to or on behalf of the employing organisation. Therefore it is likely that furloughed staff can take EVL and still receive payment from the HMRC under the Job Retention Scheme.
Are any employers exempt?
There are some staff who are exempt from the entitlement to take EVL, namely:
- Microbusinesses with less than 10 staff (headcount not full time equivalent, FTE);
- Staff who are employed by the Crown;
- Staff who are relevant members of the staff of the House of Commons, House of Lords, National Assembly of Wales, Scottish Parliament or the Northern Ireland Assembly; and
- Staff in the police service.