The Coronavirus Act 2020 received Royal Assent on Wednesday this week. This new piece of legislation introduces a number of emergency measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including a change to the current SSP scheme so that SSP is payable from the first day of sickness or self-isolation and can be funded by HMRC.
The other new right introduced by the legislation is the right to Emergency Volunteering Leave. This new right enables emergency volunteers in health or social care to take unpaid time off work and receive compensation for loss of earnings.
The worker will be required to take the leave having given their employer three working days’ notice and will also need to produce a certificate. Employers cannot refuse the leave.
Workers can take one period of leave in each ‘volunteering period’. Initially, there will be one 16-week volunteering period beginning on the day that the relevant legislation comes into force. The Secretary of State can also set further volunteering periods.
The right to take emergency volunteering leave does not include a right to payment and so there is no obligation on the employer to pay wages during a period of leave. However, an employee on emergency volunteering leave will be entitled to the benefit of all of the terms and conditions of employment (except remuneration) that would have applied if the employee had not been absent. He/she will also be entitled to return from leave to the job in which he/she was employed before the absence on no less favourable terms and conditions.
The Act also requires the Secretary of State to establish arrangements for paying compensation to volunteers in respect of loss of earnings and travel and subsistence expenses. It is not currently clear whether this scheme will replace all lost earnings, will be subject to a cap or will consist of a flat rate.
There will also be protection for workers who exercise the right to leave and it will be unlawful to subject a worker to a detriment for having taken (or sought to take) emergency volunteering leave. It will also be automatically unfair to dismiss an employee for the same reason.
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