What do employers need to consider for employees who wish to become volunteer vaccinators?

Following on from our blog a few weeks ago regarding the controversial topic of whether employers can mandate the COVID-19 vaccine within the workplace – today we outline key considerations for employers regarding employees wanting to become volunteer vaccinators.

While employers may not wish to stand in the way of employees volunteering to support the nation in its efforts to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, they do need to consider what impact, if any, this will have on their business.

There is no doubt that employees who wish to volunteer in public facing positions will be in close contact with numerous members of the community, increasing the risk of them personally contracting coronavirus. The NHS have stated that all volunteers will undergo training and be provided with supervision and personal protective equipment (PPE) to ensure the safety of staff, volunteers and members of the public. However, this is unlikely to alleviate the risk of infection in its entirety. 

What do employers need to take into consideration before permitting employees to become volunteer vaccinators?

Time off for public duties:

First and foremost, employers should establish whether the employee proposes to volunteer in their own time, or during their working hours and if the latter, any impact that this would have on the business and the employee’s team.

Employers will need to consider any policies that they have in place for time off for public duties and any respective position on pay.

While some employees have the right under s50 Employment Rights Act 1996 to a reasonable period of unpaid time off during their working hours to carry out certain “public duties”, this right does not extend to all public duties.

As volunteers it is doubtful that this would fall within the legal definition for “public duties”, but the position will need to be checked, particularly if the work is deemed to be conducted on behalf of an NHS Trust.  

In any event, there would be no automatic right to pay and as such, you may wish to consult with the employees as to whether they would prefer to take annual leave, or with the employer’s consent, to take unpaid leave.

Health and Safety:

The central issue is that of any risks to the health and safety of colleagues, customers and contractors with whom the employee may come into contact with during their working hours, particularly in any public facing roles.

Albeit there is no legal duty to do so, we would recommend undertaking consultations with employees, customers and contractors regarding this topic, especially those who may be vulnerable or caring for the vulnerable, to maintain good industrial relations.

Employers should review and update any internal risk assessments, as well as requesting copies of risk assessments relating to voluntary positions and/or secure relevant information regarding the measures that will be put in place to protect the safety of the employee and those that they come into contact with.

Employers should also check with their insurance providers to ensure that the proposed scheme does not impact their insurance cover in the event that employees were to become infected and potentially cause an outbreak within the business.

Working Time Regulations 1998:

Whilst volunteering would not in itself count as “working time” for the purpose of the Working Time Regulations 1998 (WTR), employers should be mindful of any paid positions that employees take up outside of their working hours (which are also available to assist with the roll out of the vaccines) and whether these hours would, together with their normal working hours, exceed the 48-hour working week under the WTR.

If so, employers should keep clear records of the hours worked for both the employer and in any other positions, to ensure that they do not exceed the 48 hours.

Alternatively, employers could request the employee to sign a 48 hour opt out agreement, which can be withdrawn on notice at a later date. Please note that the employee must enter into the opt out agreement voluntarily in order for this to be enforceable.

Employees who are furloughed:

With the extension of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) to 30 April 2021 and given that many businesses have been required to close under the third national lockdown, it is foreseeable that employees on furlough may wish to take up voluntary positions during this time.

The CJRS guidance states that employees can volunteer without any impact on their furloughed status, provided that the voluntary work is for a completely separate entity/organisation and does not provide any services to the employer.

If you have any questions regarding volunteers in your workplace or the impact of COVID-19 on your business generally, please contact a member of our Employment Team.