Post-holiday quarantine: Guidance for employers

The list of countries being added to and taken off the “safe” list changes every week. What can employers do to ensure the smooth running of their business if part of their workforce must isolate for 14 days?

In July, the UK Government announced, with six hours’ notice, that people returning to the UK from Spain would be required to quarantine for 14 days. Since then, various European countries have been added to and taken off the quarantine list, causing havoc for both employers and employees up and down the country.

In this guide, we explain what legal rights employers have if an employee has to unexpectedly quarantine for 14 days.

 

What are the options for someone who must quarantine?

There are several options available for those who must quarantine after being abroad. The first is the simplest – work from home.  If an employee can work from home, they can continue to do so on full pay whilst quarantining.

However, this isn’t always a possibility. If the employee cannot work from home, there are a few things employers can consider instead:

  • Agreeing with the employee further annual leave to cover the 14-day period, which can come out of the employees normal annual leave entitlement
  • Granting unpaid leave
  • Pay the equivalent of statutory sick pay (SSP) – this cannot be claimed back from the Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme
  • Pay contractual sick pay
  • Pay full pay
  • Place the employee back on furlough (subject to the employee meeting the eligibility requirements and which ends on 31st October 2020)

Each employee will have different circumstances, and this will often determine what action an employer takes. For example, an employee may not have any annual leave days left to take. In this case, the employer can offer unpaid leave.

Having said this, an employee may have been abroad due to a family emergency. In this scenario, an employer should be respectful and fair towards employees, possibly offering special paid leave for specific circumstances. This also goes for employees who have been sent abroad for business reasons by their employer, who are now having to quarantine through no fault of their own.

For contractual sick pay, the position of the employer will depend entirely on the wording of the contract of employment. If sick pay would not be payable under the contract, employers may decide on a discretionary basis to pay contractual sick pay for periods of the quarantine in order to encourage employees to stay away from the workplace. Having said this, employers may also decide that sick pay is not appropriate where the employee travelled abroad knowing the risks and the quarantine could have been avoided.

It is worth noting that if no agreement is made with the employee in relation to the quarantine period and depending on all the circumstances, the additional absence may be deemed as unauthorised leave and lead to a disciplinary process.

We recommend discussing all of the options with the employee as soon as they return to the UK and coming to an agreement as quickly and clearly as possible.

 

Are employees entitled to statutory sick pay whilst quarantining?

No. There is no entitlement to SSP for an employee who is quarantining after being abroad.

Having said this, if the employee begins displaying symptoms of coronavirus during their quarantine, they are entitled to SSP from the first day they test positive for COVID-19.

 

What if the rules change whilst an employee is abroad?

This is happening quite often, with Government advice changing very quickly while British tourists are abroad. Unfortunately for both employee and employer, it doesn’t change anything in relation to the 14-day quarantine.

Upon their return to the UK, we would advise employers to keep the lines of communication open, however there is a balance to be struck here given the employee is on annual leave and should be enjoying the benefit of rest and relation away from work. Ensuring the rules and processes are passed onto them, preferably in advance of any annual leave they are due to take or as soon as possible if the employee finds themselves in a country affected by any rule change as this can help ease any worries they may have.

 

Can an employee be forced to return to the workplace?

No, as it would be breaking the law. If the employee cannot work from home, they must not be told by their employer to return to the workplace, with a breach of quarantine resulting in a £1,000 fine for the employee. Additional breaches can take this fine up to £3,200.

In addition to asking an employee to commit a criminal offence, it would also constitute a potential breach of an employer’s health and safety obligations to other employees. This can carry a huge regulatory risk.

 

Can employees face disciplinary action or be dismissed?

Employers would have to show they had a fair reason for dismissal and carried out the dismissal via a fair procedure. This would include allowing an appeal.

Disciplinary action and dismissals will have to be considered on a case by case basis. There are quite obviously different scenarios which may be deemed fair or unfair. If a quarantine rule change affects an employee whilst they are away, for example, a judge is more likely to be sympathetic to the employee. This is in contrast to an employee who knowingly chose to holiday in a country which already had quarantine rules imposed.

 

Practical steps for employers

The 14-day quarantine when returning to the UK can be stressful for both employees and employers alike. Employers can try and ease some of those concerns by communicating with employees and implementing some practical policies.

  • Have a quarantine policy

Tell employees who take foreign holidays exactly what will happen if they go abroad and have to quarantine. Write this down as a company policy or a memo and distribute it to employees. This means employees will be booking the holiday aware of the risks.

Ensure it is clearly stated what will happen within the quarantine period, whether it will need to be taken as extra holiday leave, unpaid leave, or treated as a disciplinary issue.

  • Consider whether you wish to differentiate between holidays;
    • Was the holiday booked before the pandemic occurred?
    • Was the holiday to somewhere that wasn’t on the quarantine list before the booking?
    • Did the employee know they would have to quarantine when booking the holiday?

All of these situations may lead to different outcomes for the employee. Knowing where you stand in relation to each scenario can help simplify the action you take.   

  • Communicate all of the changes, problems, and solutions with your employees

Communication will be key in ensuring that employees are aware of exactly where they stand when it comes to holidays abroad, quarantine, and their employer.

 

How can Percy Hughes & Roberts help?

Business owners across the UK are being faced with employees having to quarantine after being away. In the first instance, we would advise employers to take a practical approach, communicating to employees as much as possible, whilst also ensuring your company can continue to run smoothly.

At Percy Hughes & Roberts, our Head of Employment, Sarah Simcott, boasts years of experience and promises a confidential, friendly, and honest approach to all issues within the employment law field.

If you have any questions regarding any issue surrounding this area, you can get in touch with us for expert advice.  Get in touch with our Wirral Employment Law Lawyer today by calling 0800 781 3894 or by completing the “Get in touch” form on this site.

 

Useful links

Coronavirus (COVID-19): travel corridors

 

Jobs that qualify for travel exemptions

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-travellers-exempt-from-uk-border-rules/coronavirus-covid-19-travellers-exempt-from-uk-border-rules