The Coronavirus Act 2020 – Implications for employers

The government has introduced the Coronavirus Act 2020 (the “Act”) to provide emergency measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although most of the Act is now in force, the changes below require secondary legislation, so nothing will change until this is made.

Statutory Sick Pay

The Act provides for legislative change which will allow SSP to be available from the first day of incapacity where this relates to coronavirus. The plan is that this will have retrospective effect, covering absences falling on or after 13 March 2020.

SSP paid in relation to coronavirus leave must be paid by the employer. The Chancellor announced that funding for this would be available to employers with fewer than 250 employees (limited to two weeks’ SSP per eligible employee), but the details have not been confirmed.

Volunteer Leave

The Act creates emergency volunteering leave which will allow workers to leave their main job and volunteer temporarily in the NHS or social care sector. Subject to certification from an appropriate authority, a worker will be able to take such leave if they provide their employer with 3 working days’ notice and the relevant certificate. A period of leave will have to be either two, three or four weeks long and must be specified in the certificate. Workers will be able to take one period of leave in each ‘volunteering period’. An initial 16-week volunteering period will begin on the day that the relevant schedules of the Act come into force. Volunteering periods can then be set by the Secretary of State.

Employees taking part will have no right to pay during the period of leave but will be entitled to the benefit of all of the terms and conditions of employment that would otherwise apply. They will also have the right to return to the job they were doing before the leave on no less favourable terms. It will also be unlawful to subject a worker to a detriment for having taken emergency volunteering leave, and it will be automatically unfair to dismiss an employee for the same reason.

Arrangements are to be made for paying compensation to volunteers for loss of earnings and travel and subsistence expenses. However, no draft regulations have been published on this point so it is not clear whether this will be a flat rate or subject to specific limitations.

Sunset Clause

The Act has a ‘sunset clause’ meaning that the temporary provisions of the Act will automatically expire after two years. The changes to the SSP rules and the right to emergency volunteering are both temporary measures. However, the protection from detriment and dismissal for having taken emergency leave, and protections of individuals’ terms and conditions during such leave are not and will not automatically expire.  It may be the case that these regulations expire on an earlier or later date, but this will be subject to review.

If you have any questions relating to this article, or require any advice, please do not hesitate to contact the Employment team.

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