Employers reject Conservative proposals for paid voluntary leave

Research by Jelf Employee Benefits has found that the majority of employers are opposed to the Tory manifesto pledge of extending their Big Society project with a new workplace entitlement to paid volunteering leave.

The survey of 226 employers found that only just over a quarter (27 per cent) of respondents agreed  that employers should be required to offer paid leave for employees to undertake placement duties for charities and other voluntary organisations. The majority (61 per cent) opposed the idea, with a further 12 per cent of employers undecided.

Commenting on these findings Steve Herbert, head of benefits strategy said: “This unexpected manifesto commitment would give all employees three days leave on full pay to undertake volunteering work. Whilst the intention may be a worthy one, it overlooks the significant impact on employers.

”Workplace absence is generally accepted to be one of the largest employment costs for UK organisations, and this commitment would add further to this. The proposed change would also pose major challenges for employers in recording this new absence type, ensuring adequate cover by colleagues, and also the administration necessary to ensure that the voluntary work qualified to be rewarded.

“There is also some concern that the entitlement, which is only intended to apply to employers with more than 250 staff, would be extended to all organisations over time.”

Jelf Employee Benefits research also revealed that 28 per cent of employers already offered paid voluntary leave to some (nine per cent) or all (19 per cent) of their employees.

Herbert continued: “The two sets of responses show a distinct correlation. 27 per cent of employers support the Government’s proposal, and a very similar number already offer some level of paid voluntary leave for employees. The Government may therefore face an uphill task persuading the majority of employers who don’t currently support volunteering that this is a sound and pragmatic policy.”

On a more positive note, Jelf points out that the manifesto commitment may lead to volunteering becoming a much more discussed issue, which in turn could increase the number of employers who actively support this benefit option of their own volition. Placements supported by employers can be an important component of an employee benefits offering, and can be used to strengthen employers’ recruitment and retention policies.