Coronavirus Act 2020 - employment law aspects

The Coronavirus Act 2020 enables changes to be made to the SSP rules and for employees and workers to take emergency volunteer leave and not suffer detriment for doing so. 

The Act is a vast piece of legislation which will impact many aspects of our daily lives. From an employer’s perspective there are two elements of it of direct relevance to the workplace: the SSP changes (which have to be made via primary legislation) and the introduction of emergency volunteer leave.

SSP changes

  • The relevant changes are contained in sections 39-44.
  • The sections echo the announcements in the Budget regarding SSP.
  • Broadly this is refunding SSP costs to SMEs (limited to two weeks’ SSP) and disapplying the three waiting days for SSP so that it’s payable from Day 1. The details will be contained in secondary legislation (i.e. statutory instruments) which, at the time of writing, have not been made.

Emergency volunteers

  • For those workers (including agency workers) who want to volunteer in the health and social care sectors, the Act (s. 8 and 9 and Sch. 7) provides for a temporary, new form of unpaid leave – emergency volunteering leave (EVL).
  • While it’s unpaid, the Act mandates the Secretary of State to make payments to such volunteers by way of compensation for loss of earnings, travelling and subsistence. No details are yet available.
  • Such workers will need to be issued with an ‘emergency volunteering certificate’ (EVC) by the relevant health or social care authority confirming that they have been approved as an emergency volunteer, and that they will volunteer for a specified period.
  • Micro-businesses (those with 10 or fewer staff) will be exempt.
  • A worker will be entitled to take a set block of two, three or four consecutive weeks of EVL during a period of 16 weeks.
  • Written notice, including the EVC Certificate, must be given to the employer at least three working days before the first day of the leave.
  • Emergency volunteers are:
    • entitled to the benefit of (and be bound by) their obligations under their contracts of employment – except in relation to pay
    • entitled to return to their job on the same terms and conditions as applied before taking EVL
    • protected from suffering any detriment and will be benefit from additional unfair dismissal protections
  • These added employment protections (for which there is no service requirement and uncapped compensation in the event of breach) are effected by inserting the following new provisions into the Employment Rights Act 1996:
    • s. 47H giving a worker the right not to suffer detriment for taking EVL or because their employer believes they are likely to do so
    • s. 104H providing for automatic unfair dismissal where the principal reason for dismissal is that  a worker took EVL or their employer believes they are likely to do so, and
    • s. 105 (7BC) providing for automatic unfair dismissal where a worker is selected for redundancy because they took EVL or their employer believes they would take EVL