Coronavirus Act 2020 – Key Information for Employers
Changes to the statutory sick pay (SSP) regime
- Regulations had already been introduced on 13 March 2020 to amend the SSP rules so that those who self-isolate in accordance with public health guidance on COVID-19 were deemed incapable of work and were therefore eligible for SSP. The Coronavirus Act makes clear that SSP will be payable from the first day of absence where it is coronavirus-related, rather than on the fourth day, as it was previously. The Act also has retrospective effect, so that any incapacity for work falling on or after 13 March 2020 will be covered.
- The Act also provides that SSP relating to coronavirus will be funded by the state, rather than the employer. The government has said that this will be available to employers with fewer than 250 employees and will be limited to two weeks’ SSP per eligible employee.
Emergency volunteering leave
- The Act creates emergency volunteering leave, which will enable workers to leave their main job and volunteer temporarily in the NHS or social care sector. Volunteering individuals will need to obtain a certificate from an “appropriate authority” such as a local authority, an NHS Commissioning Board or the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. The worker will then be able to take the leave provided for by the 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.
- The right to take emergency volunteering leave does not include a right to payment and so employers do not need to pay wages during a period of leave. However, an employee on emergency volunteering leave will be entitled to the benefit of all their other terms and conditions of employment (except pay) and will be able to claim compensation for loss of earnings and travel and subsistence expenses.
- Volunteering workers 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. 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.
These changes are not yet in force and will take effect on a date appointed by the Government. No doubt further employment law changes will result from this ever-evolving situation, requiring employers to be even more vigilant than usual.