Do employers have to take volunteering seriously if an employee wishes to take a long period of time off to volunteer? Is volunteering considered a career break and how would this be handled if it could possibly interfere with business?

There is no statutory obligation to agree to an employee’s request to take time off if they wish to undertake a volunteering opportunity, although employers may choose to do so as a measure to allow their employees a greater work/life balance. Other measures like enhanced flexible working entitlements, or greater maternity or paternity entitlements offer similar flexibility to employees but once again, are not mandatory. Many employers may have received requests for time off to volunteer in relation to the London Olympic Games.

Because there is no legislation governing time off for this reason, employers have free reign to set out exactly how they will deal with a request for time off to volunteer. They may choose not to accept requests for time off to volunteer and are perfectly entitled to do so.

But where they choose to allow employees to take time off in this way there should be a policy in place, or some other kind of documentation provided to the employee which sets out the company’s approach to time off for volunteering. This document will then govern the way in which requests are made and the time taken.

A policy may set out certain criteria which entitles an employee to make a request. Criteria may include length of service, stipulating that an employee must have, for example, 2 years’ service in order that you will entertain the request. You may also put in place other restrictions, for example, limiting the types of organisation for whom the volunteering can take place to those who you have an affiliation with, or certain charities that your company supports.

Your policy could also set out what factors it may take into consideration when determining whether to permit the request, and that there is the possibility that the request will be refused if the employer believes the employee’s absence, or any other factor, may have a detrimental impact on the organisation.

An employee may choose to request a career break in order to take up a volunteering opportunity but due to the sometimes short nature of the period of volunteering, considering it a career break may not be appropriate.

Similarly, career breaks are not always used to undertake other opportunities, and can sometimes be simply where an employee wants to spend more time with their children.

For any further clarification, please call our 24 Hour Advice Service on 0844 892 2772.