Coronavirus Bill: What do businesses and employees need to know?

The Coronavirus Bill is being debated by MPs today. Our employment team highlights the key changes that businesses and employees should be aware of.

Emergency Volunteers

The Bill proposes that employees will be able to take a leave of absence to become an ‘emergency volunteer’.

These volunteers will take part in health or social care activities in place of their regular work. Employees taking emergency volunteering leave are entitled to all of the terms of condition of employment, excluding remuneration.

Employers will be able to apply to the government if acting as an emergency volunteer has resulted in loss of earnings that wouldn’t have been incurred if the person had not become a volunteer.

Employees returning from leave have a right to return to the same position and on the same terms and conditions as they left, and if an employee’s pension scheme does not include an emergency volunteering rule, it shall be treated as having one.

The Bill also makes provisions that allow employees to raise claims at a tribunal if they are subject to any detriment due to their taking emergency voluntary leave. This includes unfair dismissal if an employee believes they have been dismissed due to taking emergency voluntary leave.

How does an employee become an Emergency Volunteer?

First, a potential volunteer must apply for a certificate from an ‘appropriate’ authority, such as a local council or government body. This certificate will show a start and end date for a person to be able to act as an emergency volunteer. The certificates will be limited to a 2-4 week consecutive period and only one certificate will be issued within a 16 week time-frame.

The certificate, once received, must be submitted to the employer along with a notice in writing detailing the intention to become a volunteer and the required period of absence. This will allow the employer to claim compensation for loss of earnings from the government.

There are some workers who are not entitled to emergency volunteering leave, including:

  • If the worker is employed by an undertaking which has a headcount of less than 10;
  • If the worker is employed by the Crown;
  • If the worker is a member of House of Lords or House of Commons staff;
  • If the worker is under a contract of employment with the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body/National Assembly for Wales Commission/Northern Ireland Assembly Commission; or
  • If the worker is a member of the police service.
Statutory Sick Pay

The Bill provides for HMRC to fund payments of Statutory Sick Pay relating to COVID-19. If an employer has under 250 employees, they may recover up to the full amount of Statutory Sick Pay that has been paid out from the government.

The Bill also contains the power to disapply the 3 day waiting period for employees to be entitled to payment of Statutory Sick Pay. This has a retrospective effect in relation to incapacity for work that falls on or after the 13th of March 2020, and confirms the government’s statements from the past weeks that Statutory Sick Pay will apply from day 1.

The full Bill can be found here. If you have any queries in relation to your rights as an employer or employee, please do not hesitate to contact our specialist employment team.

Our employment team provides regular updates as news develops. In this regard, we will address Furlough in a future scheduled update.

In the meantime, if you have any questions relating to your employment rights, please do not hesitate to contact a member of our specialist Employment team.

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