The Act includes a number of emergency measures designed to address the coronavirus outbreak. It contains a "sunset clause" which provides that the temporary provisions of the Act (including the Statutory Sick Pay rule changes, and the right to emergency volunteering leave, more of which below) will automatically expire after two years.
A Minister of the Crown may make regulations providing that the temporary provisions are to expire on an earlier or later date, although in the latter case may only extend the expiry date by no more than six months. Provision is also made for regular parliamentary review, by which, every six months, the House of Commons must vote on a motion asking whether the temporary provisions of the Act should continue to have effect.
The employment measures contained in the Act are as follows:
Emergency volunteer leave
The Act sets out a new statutory right for workers to take emergency volunteer leave in blocks of two, three or four weeks. This right is available to workers who have been certified by an appropriate authority (a local authority, the NHS Commissioning Board or the Department of Health) to act as an emergency volunteer in health or social care, to alleviate the pressure on these services.
In order to take the leave workers will have to give their employer three days' notice and produce the certificate confirming that they have been approved as an emergency volunteer.
The leave is unpaid, but all those taking volunteering leave will be entitled to the benefit of all of the terms and conditions of employment that would have applied if they had not been absent. They will also be entitled to return to the job in which they were employed before the absence on no less favourable terms and conditions.
For more information on emergency volunteer leave please tune into our Podcast.
Statutory sick pay
There is a new requirement for the government to make regulations which disapply the waiting days for the purposes of receiving statutory sick pay (SSP) in relation to an employee whose absence is related to coronavirus.
These regulations, the Statutory Sick Pay (Coronavirus) (Suspension of Waiting Days and General Amendment) Regulations 2020, have now been passed. These permit payment of SSP from day one of an employee's absence from work (rather than day 4), where the employee is incapable, or deemed to be incapable, of doing work by reason of coronavirus. The regulations apply retrospectively for absence on or after 13 March 2020.
SSP relating to coronavirus will be funded by the State, though there are no regulations made as yet setting out the detail of this. The government has previously announced that this will relate to the first 14 days of sickness absence, and that the government funding of SSP will apply to those employers with 250 or fewer employees.
Healthcare professionals and social workers
The Act allows health regulators to register, on an emergency basis, suitable individuals as nurses and other healthcare professions. In addition certain changes are made to NHS pensions to allow skilled and experienced staff who have recently retired from the NHS to return to work.