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On Wednesday 25th March 2020, the Coronavirus Act 2020 received Royal Assent. This comes amongst emergency legislation the Government has introduced to help combat the Coronavirus pandemic.

The Act introduces ‘emergency volunteering leave’ which gives workers the opportunity to leave their main job to volunteer temporarily in the NHS or social care sector. Employees will be permitted to apply to an appropriate authority for a certificate which will allow them to act as an emergency volunteer in health or social care.

An ‘appropriate authority’ in Scotland includes:

  • The Scottish Ministers;
  • A council constituted under Section 2 of the Local Government etc (Scotland) Act 1994.

Once employees have obtained the certificate, they can take leave by giving their employer three working days’ notice, in writing, of their intention to take leave. The Act does not give employers provision to refuse leave, however, they are not obliged to continue to pay employees’ wages during such period of leave.

The Secretary of State is required to provide arrangements to compensate volunteers for their loss of earnings and travel and subsistence expenses. This is to ensure that volunteers do not suffer financial disadvantage. However, there remains some ambiguity as to whether the scheme will replace all lost earnings, will pay out at a flat rate or will be subject to a cap.

Volunteering Period

The ‘volunteering period’ will start on the day on which the Schedule comes into force and will last for a period of 16 weeks. However, the Secretary of State can set subsequent volunteering periods if this is deemed necessary. 

Workers will be allowed to take one period of leave in each volunteering period. Each ‘period’ can comprise:

  • Two consecutive weeks;
  • Three consecutive weeks; or
  • Four consecutive weeks.

If subsequent volunteering periods are set, employees can take further volunteering leave, provided that this is limited to one period of leave pervolunteering period. For example, if an employee had taken four consecutive weeks of volunteering leave in the initial 16 week volunteering period, they would be able to take a further four consecutive weeks in a subsequent volunteering period.

Employees will be entitled to benefit from all of the usual terms and conditions, of their employment, that they would benefit from if they had not been absent. Similarly, they will be bound by any obligations arising under such terms and conditions.

Exceptions to Entitlement

The legislation outlines a list of workers who will not be entitled to take emergency volunteering leave.

This includes employees who are employed by:

  • Small employers with less than 10 members of staff;
  • The Crown;
  • The police service.

Please note that this is not an exhaustive list.

Returning to Work

Employees will be entitled to return to their employment on no less favourable terms and conditions than what they were eligible to prior to their absence.

The legislation amends the Employment Rights Act 1996 to protect employees who have taken (or sought to take) emergency volunteering leave. Employers must not subject workers to any detriment if they have taken emergency volunteering leave and dismissal for taking such leave is now deemed automatically unfair.

Time Limit

The legislation is time limited and the temporary provisions of the Act will automatically expire after two years. Volunteering leave is classed as temporary and will therefore expire after said time.

Although the right to take volunteering leave is temporary, the protection of employees’ terms and conditions of employment during such leave, and their protection from detriment and dismissal for having taken emergency volunteering leave are not temporary and will therefore exceed the two year mark.

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