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Coronavirus Act 2020 comes into force

Makbool Javaid

The Coronavirus Act has received Royal Assent and has come into force.

The Act sets out proposed emergency legislative measures to address the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak. The legislation is time-limited for two years, but not all of the measures come into force immediately. Instead, many of the measures can be commenced from area to area and time to time, so as to ensure that the need to protect the public’s health can be aligned with the need to safeguard individuals’ rights. These measures can subsequently be suspended and then later reactivated, if circumstances permit.

The Act contains two key measures which will impact directly on mainstream employment.

1. Emergency Volunteers
Sections 8 and 9, together with Schedule 7, introduce a new form of unpaid statutory leave, for emergency volunteers and powers to establish a compensation scheme to compensate for some loss of earnings and expenses incurred by volunteers.

These measures are designed to enable relevant appropriate authorities (local authorities and relevant health and social care bodies) to maximise the pool of volunteers that they can draw on to fill capacity gaps by addressing two primary deterrents to participation: risk to employment and employment rights, and loss of income.

2. Statutory Sick Pay
Sections 39 and 40 allow for amendments to the current Statutory Sick Pay system as it does not provide the flexibility required for the response to managing and mitigating the effects of a Covid-19 pandemic.

Under Section 39, the Secretary of State is given the power to make regulations regarding the recovery from HMRC of additional payments of SSP by certain employers for absences related to Covid-19 so that the relevant employers are supported in a period when their payments of SSP are likely to escalate.

Section 40 allows for the Secretary of State to make regulations to temporarily suspend the three waiting days rule for those employees who are absent from work due to Covid-19, meaning that SSP is payable from day one.

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