The Coronavirus Act 2020 receives Royal Assent
The Coronavirus Act 2020 received Royal Assent on 25 March. Of interest to employers will be the provisions allowing for statutory sick pay to be paid from the first day of absence, for reimbursement of statutory sick pay and a new right for employees to take emergency volunteering leave.
Statutory sick pay
The government announced in the budget that as an emergency measure it would bring in legislation to make statutory sick pay available from the first day of sickness absence for employees who have COVID19 or self-isolate in accordance with public health guidance. The Act enables the government to bring in regulations to bring about this change and allows for them to have retrospective effect so that they apply to any incapacity for work on or after 13 March 2020.
The government also previously announced it would legislate to allow small and medium-sized employers to reclaim Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) paid for sickness absence due to COVID-19. The Act gives the government the power to do this through regulations and again provides that this can be backdated to 13 March 2020. The government previously confirmed that the refund will cover up to 2 weeks’ SSP and will be available to employers with fewer than 250 employees (as at 28 February 2020).
The Act introduces a right for workers to take emergency volunteering leave to act as an emergency volunteer in the health or social care sectors. So far over 400,000 people have signed up to this scheme. Details of the scheme are as follows:
- The worker has to be certified by a local authority, the NHS Commissioning Board or the Department of Health to act as an emergency volunteer
- The worker must give their employer three working days’ notice of their intention to take leave by providing the emergency volunteering certificate
- The period of leave must be either two, three or four weeks long and this must be stated in the certificate. The worker can only take one block of leave in any volunteering period of 16 weeks. The first 16-week period started on 25 March 2020 and the Secretary of State can prescribe further periods
- The worker has no right to be paid but all other terms and conditions of employment continue to apply. The period of absence will not affect the worker's pension entitlement
- The Secretary of State is required to establish arrangements for paying compensation to volunteers in respect of loss of earnings and travel and subsistence expenses. It is not clear whether this will replace all lost earnings, will be subject to a cap or will consist of a flat rate
- There is no right for an employer to refuse leave, for example on operation grounds
- It is unlawful to subject a worker to a detriment for taking emergency volunteering leave and it will be unfair to dismiss an employee for this reason
- The worker has the right to return to the job in which they were employed before the absence, on no less favourable terms and conditions
- The following workers will be not be entitled to take emergency volunteering leave:
- Workers employed or engaged by businesses with fewer than ten staff
- Crown employees.
- Parliamentary staff
- Employees in police service
- Other employees defined in subsequent regulations
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