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Covid-19: Update - Emergency Volunteer Leave (EVL)

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The Coronavirus Bill has not yet been enacted but we are expecting its provisions to be approved and brought into law imminently.

One of the five key areas set out in the Bill relates to Emergency Volunteer Leave.

What is Emergency Volunteer Leave?

A new right is proposed for workers to be able to take emergency volunteer leave in blocks of two, three or four weeks to act as an emergency volunteer in health or social care, to alleviate the pressure on these essential services.

Who might be eligible?

Workers who have been certified by an appropriate authority (a local authority, the NHS Commissioning Board or the Department of Health) to act as an emergency volunteer in health or social care will be eligible. 

How do they take EVL?

Workers will need to give their employer three working days' notice and produce the certificate confirming that they have been approved as an emergency volunteer.

Can workers take more than one period of EVL?

Yes. Workers can take one period of leave in each "volunteering period". Initially there will be one 16-week volunteering period beginning on the day the legislation comes into force, with subsequent volunteering periods set by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.

Can an application for EVL be refused?

No - there is no provision for employers to refuse EVL, however the following workers will not be able to apply:

  • Workers employed or engaged by businesses with fewer than ten staff.
  • Crown employees.
  • Parliamentary staff as defined in sections 194 and 195 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA 1996) and employees of the devolved assemblies in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
  • Employees in police service, within the meaning of section 200(2) of the ERA 1996.
  • Other employees defined in subsequent regulations.

Will EVL be paid leave?

No – EVL will be unpaid, but a UK-wide compensation fund will be established to compensate volunteers for loss of earnings, travel and subsistence, provided that the emergency volunteers meet any conditions set down by the Secretary of State.

How do workers claim compensation?

Further details concerning the arrangements for claiming compensation and the applicable conditions (including whether there will be a cap on recoverable amounts) are to be published by the Secretary of State.

Will EVL volunteers still benefit from their terms and conditions of employment?

Yes, other than the right to be paid during the period of EVL, the terms and conditions will continue as if they had not been absent.  Workers will also remain bound by any contractual obligations (e.g. to maintain confidentiality).  

Will EVL volunteers be able to return to their old job?

Yes - there will be a statutory right to return to the job in which they were employed before the EVL, on terms and conditions no less favourable than those which would have applied if the employee had not been on EVL (so if a pay rise is awarded during their absence, they will also benefit from that pay rise).

Will EVL affect pension or benefit entitlements?

No - an implied emergency volunteering rule will be added to any workplace pension or benefit scheme, so that the period of absence on EVL will be deemed not to have any effect on the worker's pension or benefit entitlements.

Can an employee be dismissed for taking EVL?

At the employer’s peril! A section will be added to the Employment Rights Act 1996 to protect workers from detriment on the grounds that they sought to take or made use of the benefits of EVL, or that the employer believed that the worker was likely to take EVL.

Automatic unfair dismissal protection will also be extended to cover employees dismissed for taking or seeking to take EVL, or where the employer believed that the employee was likely to take EVL.

The content of this article is applicable as at 25 March 2020 but is subject to change.

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