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The Coronavirus Act 2020 passed

The Coronavirus Act 2020 received Royal Assent yesterday. It introduces a number of emergency measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including some employment-related changes.

Changes to SSP

The Act provides for the modification of statutory sick pay (SSP), so that SSP is payable from the first day of sickness or self-isolation and the first two weeks of absence will be funded by HMRC.

The Statutory Sick Pay (General) (Coronavirus Amendment) Regulations 2020, which came into force on 13 March 2020, had already provided for those who self-isolate in accordance with public health guidance on COVID-19 to be able to claim sick pay. However, those Regulations did not affect the fact that SSP is not payable for the first three days. The new Act gives the Government power to make regulations in relation to an employee whose incapacity for work is related to coronavirus and this will be payable from day one when the legislation comes into effect. It is likely that the new regulations will have retrospective effect, taking account of any incapacity for work falling on or after 13 March 2020.

The new Act also provides for coronavirus related SSP, which is paid by the employer, to be funded by HMRC. We are awaiting further regulations which may also be retrospective to 13 March 2020. However, on 17 March 2020, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that the funding would be available to employers with fewer than 250 employees and would be limited to two weeks’ SSP per eligible employee. We will obviously keep you updated when the regulations are published.

Emergency Volunteering Leave

The Act also creates ’emergency volunteering leave’, which will enable emergency volunteers in health or social care to take unpaid time off work and receive compensation for loss of earnings.

This is aimed at allowing workers to leave their main job and volunteer temporarily in the NHS or social care sector. It has been reported that over 400,000 individuals have already signed up to the volunteering scheme in the first 24 hours. Under the Act, an appropriate authority, such as a local authority, an NHS Commissioning Board or the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, can certify an individual to act as an emergency volunteer in health or social care. That person will then be able to take the leave provided for by the new Act if he or she gives his or her employer three working days’ notice and produces the certificate. The period of leave must be either two, three or four weeks long, and must be specified in the certificate. There is no provision for employers to refuse leave. Workers can take one period of leave in each volunteering period. Initially, there will be one 16-week volunteering period beginning on the day that the legislation comes into force but subsequent volunteering periods can be set by the Government.

The right to take emergency volunteering leave does not include a right to payment and so there is no obligation on the employer to pay wages during a period of leave. However, an employee on emergency volunteering leave will be entitled to the benefit of all of the terms and conditions of employment (except remuneration) that would have applied if the employee had not been absent; and the employee will be entitled to return from leave to the job in which he or she was employed before the absence on no less favourable terms and conditions.

Arrangements will be put in place by the Government to allow for paying compensation to volunteers in respect of loss of earnings and travel and subsistence expenses. As for protecting workers who exercise the right to leave, it will be unlawful to subject a worker to a detriment for having taken (or sought to take) emergency volunteering leave, and that it will be automatically unfair to dismiss an employee for the same reason.

The Act provides that the temporary provisions under it will automatically expire after two years. Both the SSP rule changes and the right to emergency volunteering leave are temporary. However, the protection from detriment and dismissal for having taken emergency volunteering leave, and the protection of employees’ terms and conditions of employment during such leave, are not temporary and so will not automatically expire.

If you have any queries, please do not hesitate to contact us on 01228 552600 or 01524 548494.

 

This alert does not provide a full statement of the law and readers are advised to take legal advice before taking any action based on the information contained herein.

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