The Coronavirus Act 2020 (the “Act”) has finally received Royal Assent. This Act is important because it responds to a number of issues surrounding the recent COVID-19 pandemic outbreak.
Statutory Sick Pay
In particular, the Act has modified the implementation of statutory sick pay (“SSP”). Previously, SSP would not be payable for the first three days of incapacity, although now the Act provides that SSP is payable from the first day of sickness or self-isolation.
This Act provides that any coronavirus related SSP which is payable by the employer, is to be funded by the government. HMRC can now make regulations setting out the extent and manner of such funding, including making provision for funding in advance or by way of reducing employers’ other liabilities.
Emergency volunteering changes
Emergency volunteering leave is provided for in the Act.
This is aimed at allowing workers to leave their main job and volunteer temporarily in the NHS or social care sector. 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:
- The employee 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.
Currently, there is no provision for employers to refuse leave.
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.
It is important for employers to note that the 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. 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.
How long will the Act be in force?
The Act contains a ‘sunset clause’, which provides that the temporary provisions of the Act will automatically expire after two years. Both the SSP rule changes and the right to emergency volunteering leave are temporary.
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