COVID-19: Health Secretary lays Coronavirus Bill before Parliament


Please Note: All information correct at time of writing on 19 March 2020. We do our very best to make sure our information is as up to date as possible, but we’d encourage you to check out our latest articles and to check the government website for updates as they happen.

Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock has laid the Coronavirus Bill before Parliament today (Thursday 19 March.)

This contains a number of far-reaching measures giving the government temporary powers  (for the next two years) to strengthen the quarantine powers of police and immigration officers, reduce unnecessary social contact through powers over events and gatherings, remove barriers to allow recently retired NHS and social workers to return to work and ease the administrative burden of frontline staff.

This follows the significant economic measures introduced earlier this week by Chancellor Rishi Sunak.

There are a number of measures that will be implemented when the Bill passes that will have a significant impact on employers and business owners:

  • It implements the changes to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)  for COVID-19 related sickness absences to extend entitlement to SSP to day one of the absence with effect from Friday 13 March. It also seems to imply that the small business rebate will apply with effect from the same date.  Until we see the bill itself, we can’t confirm this 100% as this differs from the budget briefing notes, but it seems to be the case from the summary of the bill. This rebate will allow businesses with less than 250 employees to recover up to 14 days SSP for COVID-19 related sickness absences for each employee affected.
  • It introduces a new right for employees and workers – Emergency Volunteer Leave – which can be taken in a block of either two, three or four weeks’ statutory unpaid leave. It also establishes a UK-wide compensation fund to compensate for loss of earnings and expenses incurred at a flat rate for those who volunteer through an appropriate authority. The intention is that this will “ensure that volunteers do not suffer financial disadvantage as a result of performing a public good”.
  • Allow regulators to emergency register suitable people as regulated healthcare professionals, such as nurses, midwives or paramedics (this might include recently retired professionals and students who are near the end of their training).
  • Provide powers to require educational institutions or childcare providers to stay open or relax some requirements around education legislation to help these institutions run effectively during the event of an emergency. This could include reducing teacher ratios, adapting school meal standards and relaxing provisions for those with special educational needs.

Hancock said on Tuesday that the new powers “will only be used when it is absolutely necessary and must be timed to maximise their effectiveness” and the government will also have the power to switch any of these off when they’re no longer necessary.

For now, it remains for businesses and employers to wait until the Emergency Coronavirus Bill to be officially passed, which we believe will be on Monday (23 March).

Keeping you up to date on measures to tackle COVID-19

The impact of COVID-19 on business owners has been unprecedented. With daily briefings and different measures being introduced on a daily basis, it’s a dizzying time for everyone.

Citation’s Employment Law experts are here to track the progress of these measures and to translate them into real terms for your business. Keep an eye on our latest articles and free guides, as well as our social media channels for all the latest updates.

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