Emergency volunteer leave and the pensions impact
Emergency volunteering leave
The Act outlines the government’s intention to enlist the help of volunteers in carrying out both coronavirus-related and non-coronavirus related essential services and provides a new form of temporary, statutory unpaid leave for workers and employees who wish to volunteer: Emergency volunteering leave (EVL).
A volunteer can only take EVL up to four consecutive weeks in any 16-week period. While employer consent is not required for an employee to commence EVL, a volunteer will be required to secure an emergency volunteering certificate from an “appropriate authority” (in England, this includes a county council, district council and London borough council) and present the certificate to their employer not less than three days before their period of EVL commences.
The Act does provide some exemptions to EVL, including for “micro businesses” (those employing less than 10 employees), civil servants, the military, police and parliamentary staff. Although these exemptions are relatively narrow, the Secretary of State has retained the power to add to the list of exemptions.
How does EVL impact pension rights?
Arrangements under “employment-related benefit schemes” (broadly, any pension scheme to which employers contribute in respect of their employees) are modified to incorporate an emergency volunteering rule. This treats all time spent on EVL by an employee as though it were time spent in work as normal, for the purposes of:
- membership of the scheme;
- accrual of rights under the scheme; and
- the determination of the amount of a benefit payable under the scheme.
The pension provisions of the Act are intended to ensure that employees who take EVL do not miss out on pension rights that they would have otherwise built-up during their period of EVL. During periods of EVL, the Act requires employers to make contributions to the relevant scheme based on the relevant employees’ earnings immediately prior to them taking EVL. The employees’ contributions during the period of EVL will be based on their actual earnings during the period of EVL.
It is not yet clear how the government’s salary protection scheme will interplay with an employee’s right to complete EVL.
To read more about EVL please see our Covid-19 employment FAQs article.
Co-authored by trainee solicitor, Jessica Lewis.