The Government has introduced wide-ranging emergency measures to deal with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Powers brought in under the Coronavirus Act 2020, which received Royal Assent on 25 March, will come into force when required although many will take effect immediately.
Employment law measures included in the Act include:
- A new right for employees and workers (subject to some exemptions) to take emergency volunteer leave in blocks of two, three or four weeks, to volunteer in the health and social care sector. This leave will be unpaid, but individuals will be able to claim back compensation for loss of earnings and expenses from a national fund. Individuals will be required to provide a minimum of three working days’ notice to their employer and produce a certificate confirming that they have been approved as an emergency volunteer. Employers will not be able to refuse a period of such leave, and must not dismiss or subject the individual to any detriment as a consequence of taking (or seeking to take) the leave. Individuals will only be able to take one period of volunteer leave in each ‘volunteering period’, initially a period of 16 weeks from the date the legislation comes into force.
- A temporary suspension of the three days of ‘waiting time’ under existing Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) rules, meaning that SSP is payable for the first three days of sickness absence. This will have retrospective effect for sickness absences from 13 March 2020 onwards. Small and medium-sized employers (fewer than 250 employees) will be able to claim back SSP paid for the first 14 days of absence due to COVID-19.
- Regulators will have the ability to register suitable individuals as healthcare professionals on an emergency basis. Changes to NHS pensions will also allow those staff who have recently retired to return to work.
- Expanding the use of video and audio links in court proceedings, to allow them to take place without participants attending in person. The Presidents of the Employment Tribunals in England and Wales and in Scotland have already directed that all hearings due to take place in person from 23 March 2020 will be converted to a case management hearing by telephone or other ‘electronic meanings’ (eg video conferencing) and will take place on the first day allocated for the hearing.
Powers introduced under the Act will remain in force for a period of two years but will be reviewed every six months.
This article is from the March 2020 issue of Employment and Immigration Law Update, our monthly newsletter for HR professionals. To download the latest issue, please visit the newsletter section of our website. For further information please contact Liz Stevens or another member of Birketts’ Employment Law Team.
The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at March 2020.