What are my rights if I take “Emergency Volunteer Leave” in order to help the NHS?

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On 24 March 2020, the NHS announced that they were “rallying the troops” to encourage emergency volunteers to help the NHS fight the novel coronavirus.

Within 24 hours of their sign-up going live, they had over 400,000 emergency volunteers pledge to assist the NHS for two, three or four weeks. Such enthusiasm is promising to see in times like these and the government introduced The Coronavirus Act 2020 yesterday in order to navigate how situations like “emergency volunteer leave” should be treated.

What is emergency volunteer leave?

The Coronavirus Act 2020 passes legislation in place for the next 2 years. It enables emergency volunteers in health or social care to take unpaid time off work to assist the NHS. Volunteers who are currently employed elsewhere will provide their employer with a certificate which they will receive from the NHS (or another appropriate public body as set out in the Act), confirming that they will be an emergency volunteer for X amount of time.

The individual will be able to take the leave as certified if s/he provides the employer with the certificate and three working days’ notice. The period of leave will be 2, 3 or 4 weeks’ long and specified in the certificate. The initial volunteering period is over 16 weeks.

The employer cannot refuse the emergency volunteer’s request, however, they do not have to continue paying the employee whilst they are gone.

What if my employer refuses my emergency volunteer request?

Employers are not allowed to:

  • refuse the emergency volunteer’s request
  • treat an employee differently for choosing to take the leave or subject them to a detriment
  • dismiss an employee because they became an emergency volunteer. If they do, this will automatically be unfair dismissal and the employee can make a claim against their employer.

What happens when I come back?

Once you have returned from emergency volunteer leave then you will be entitled:

  • to return to your role on no less favourable terms than when you left
  • to the benefit of all the terms and conditions of your employment contract
  • to claim for any loss of earnings, travel and subsistence expenses from the Secretary of State.

The Secretary of State has yet to provide detail as to how these claims will be made or when they will be paid.

Further information

For specific advice for your business, please get in touch with our specialist Employment Law team through this website or by calling 0330 404 0778.

Our partners at Ashtons HR Consulting are also available to assist you.


This information is correct at 4.00pm on 26 March 2020.

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