A new statutory right to take emergency volunteer leave (EVL) is detailed in the Coronavirus Act 2020 creating a temporary new form of unpaid leave. Employees and workers can elect to take temporary leave from work, to volunteer for health and social care sectors during the coronavirus pandemic. The right will not apply where the employer has a headcount of less than 10 staff.

The ability to take leave will be triggered by the government which will set cyclical ‘volunteering periods’ of 16 weeks, within which individuals may undertake volunteering in blocks of 2, 3 or 4 consecutive weeks. The leave must be taken in one block and only one period of leave may be taken in the first 16-week period from which the right comes into force. Should the scheme be extended for a further 16-weeks or less, then the employee or worker can take leave again, but the same conditions for taking the leave will apply.

Volunteers will be issued an ‘emergency volunteering certificate’ by an appropriate authority (including local authorities, the NHS and the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care), which will specify the details of their volunteering duties. Volunteers must supply their certificate to their employer together with notice to take EVL in writing 3 working days in advance of their leave commencing.

During the period of leave, staff will not be paid however all other terms and conditions of employment will remain the same and pension rights are protected. The government will compensate volunteers for loss of earnings plus travel and subsistence expenses.

The Act also provides employees the right to return to the same job at the end of the leave. Staff are protected from suffering any detriment and from unfair dismissal due to their decision to exercise their statutory right to take EVL.