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Coronavirus Act 2020: A layman’s guide for employers and employees

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Coronavirus Act 2020: A layman’s guide for employers and employees

In response to the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak, emergency legislation known as the Coronavirus Act 2020 has been implemented to assist the government in responding to the demands caused by this global pandemic. On the 25th March, the Coronavirus Act 2020 (the Act) received royal assent and became an Act of Parliament.

What is the purpose of the Coronavirus Act 2020?

Its purpose is to enable the government to respond to an emergency situation and manage the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. It contains temporary measures designed to either amend existing legislative provisions or introduce new statutory powers. It covers a vast number of topics from providing economic support and postponing elections, to provisions designed to ease the burden on frontline staff and to mitigate the impact of staff shortages.

Statutory Sick Pay

The legislation contains amendments regarding statutory sick pay (SSP) which is paid by an employer to an employee who is absent from work due to sickness. The current SSP does not provide the flexibility required to manage and mitigate the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Due to the outbreak, the number of people absent from work increased significantly and this resulted in a financial burden on employers through increased SSP costs. The government implemented new legislative provisions to provide relief and support to employers. This change applies as long as the coronavirus-related incapacity arose on or after 13th March 2020.

Ordinarily, SSP is not payable for the first three days of sickness, also known as waiting days. However, the Act has removed these waiting days and SSP can be paid from the first day of Covid-19 related absence. The government has also produced isolation notes for employees to fill out to provide evidence of their inability to work. The government hopes that this will encourage workers to stay at home if they are infected with the virus.

The Act provides guidance for determining if an employee should be deemed unable to work. This covers instances where the employee:

  • Has Covid-19 symptoms and must remain at home to self-isolate for seven days, beginning with the day the symptoms started;
  • Lives with somebody who is isolating due to having Covid-19 symptoms, meaning that the employee must stay at home for 14 days, beginning with the first day the individual’s symptoms started.

Employees who are socially distancing due to being vulnerable are not entitled to SSP. Instead, employers should seek an alternative approach such as placing employees on furlough leave if they cannot work from home.

The government guidance will be frequently updated therefore, employers and employees should keep up to date with developments regarding SSP.

Pension Schemes

Pension Schemes are another topic addressed by the Act. The previous restrictions on returning to work whilst in receipt of a pension were likely to act as a deterrent for healthcare professionals who wish to re-enter the workforce to assist in the response to Covid-19. The Act now enables individuals already in receipt of their NHS pensions to return to work or increase their working capacity if they have already returned, without facing either suspension or abatement of their pension.

Emergency Volunteering Leave

This new statutory right enables workers to leave their employment to volunteer in the health or social care sectors to alleviate the pressure on these key services due to the pandemic. This will be in the form of unpaid statutory leave. An employee must obtain an emergency volunteering certificate from the appropriate authority and give their employer a minimum of three working days’ notice in writing. This will then allow the employee to qualify as an emergency volunteer, entitling them to emergency volunteering leave.

However, there are exceptions as to when an employee is not entitled to do so, that is if:

  • The employer has less than 10 employees
  • The employee is employed by the crown
  • The employee is a Parliamentary staff member or employee of the devolved assemblies
  • The employee is employed in the police service
  • Other employees defined in subsequent regulations

It is important to note that there is no provision for employers to refuse to give leave purely because of the needs of the business. There will be a UK-wide compensation fund to compensate volunteers for loss of earnings, travel and subsistence subject to conditions. The volunteers will have a statutory right to return to their job on terms and conditions no less favourable than those which would have applied if they had not been absent. They will also have the right not to be subjected to a detriment or dismissal due to taking emergency volunteering leave.

Sunset Clause

Lastly, it is vital to highlight that the temporary provisions of the Coronavirus Act 2020 will automatically expire after two years. However, the employees statutory right to return to work and the protection of their terms and conditions after their emergency volunteering leave will not expire automatically; this area will be subject to review.

If you have any questions or require any advice with regards to how the Coronavirus Act 2020 may affect you please get in touch, Hybrid Legal are happy to help.