Time off for volunteering

Employers are often very impressed when a job applicant has volunteering experience on their CV. They appreciate the useful skills volunteering can bring and how a person is going that extra mile for the good of the local community.

Whether it’s helping in a homeless shelter, running a charity fundraiser or tutoring children, volunteering activities can take a significant amount of time which may mean you receive a request from an employee asking for time off during working time.

Is there a statutory right to take time off to volunteer?

Under section 50 of the Employment Rights Act 1996, employees who hold certain public positions are entitled to time off work. For example, if your employee is volunteering as a magistrate.

The law does not lay down how many days they are allowed per year. It will depend on what is reasonable considering all the circumstances. In particular, you need to consider the following factors:

  • how long the employee needs to complete the duties
  • whether they have previously taken time off
  • how their absence will affect the business.

You may choose to pay employees for this time off, but you are under no statutory duty to do so.

What if their volunteering activity doesn’t fall within section 50 of the Employment Rights Act?

If it falls outside the scope of this right, there is no general statutory right to take time off to volunteer. So if an employee wants to take some time off to do some volunteering during work hours, they will need to obtain permission from you.

When you consider whether to grant time off, your organisation’s size and resources will be a significant factor.

Larger organisations have embraced and established employer-supported schemes. For example, some have rolled out schemes where they provide X days of paid volunteering per year in addition to the employee’s annual leave entitlement. Other organisations offer X days of unpaid leave to use for volunteering purposes, or a use a combination of paid and unpaid leave.

However, it can be more difficult for a smaller organisation. The absence of one person can have serious repercussions on the rest of the team and day to day functioning, so you will need to think carefully when managing these types of requests. You may need to consider whether the employee can take some annual leave to do their volunteering or whether you can provide any flexibility, for example, letting the employee leave work a bit early.

Is the law in this area due to change?

In 2015, the Conservative party pledged that they would they introduce three days’ paid volunteering leave each year for all public sector employees and those in the private sector who work for employers with a minimum of 250 employees. This was dropped from their 2017 manifesto, so it seems that it has been put aside, at least for the time being.

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