A new, temporary, statutory right is available for eligible workers to take Emergency Volunteering Leave to help the Health and Social Care system in response to the Coronavirus outbreak.
Suitably skilled and/or experienced workers will be able to take Emergency Volunteering Leave in blocks of two, three or four weeks during any sixteen-week volunteering period.
The Emergency Volunteering Leave is unpaid; however, a compensation scheme will be set up to compensate eligible emergency volunteers for some loss of income and expenses incurred.
The eligible worker must have been certified by an appropriate authority to act as an emergency volunteer in health or social care. In Northern Ireland, the appropriate authorities are:
- the Department of Health;
- a Regional Health and Social Care Board; and
- a Health and Social Care trust.
To avail of the Emergency Volunteering Leave, eligible workers must give their employer at least three working days’ notice and the certificate provided by the appropriate authority.
Except for those organisations and workers that are exempt, there is no provision for employers to refuse leave, for example, because of operational need.
Employment rights and benefits
During Emergency Volunteering Leave, workers will still be entitled to the benefit of all of their terms and conditions of employment which would have applied if they had not been absent - except for terms and conditions relating to remuneration. The period of absence will be deemed not to have any effect on their pension or benefit entitlements.
Emergency volunteers have the statutory right to return to the job they were in before taking Emergency Volunteering Leave and on terms and conditions that are no less favourable than those which would have applied if they hadn't been absent.
In addition, volunteers will have the right not to be subjected to a detriment or dismissal on the grounds of taking Emergency Volunteering Leave.
Exemptions to the statutory right to Emergency Volunteering Leave
The following organisations and workers are exempt from the statutory right to Emergency Volunteering Leave:
- micro-businesses (those with 10 or fewer employees)
- Crown employees
- military personnel
- the police
- NI Assembly and commission staff