The Government have announced that anyone returning from a number of countries previously considered as ‘quarantine-free’ such as Spain, France and Croatia, will now have to self-isolate for two weeks, after data showed a surge in coronavirus cases.
Whilst they have insisted that no worker should be penalised for quarantining, official Government advice remains that employees are not automatically entitled to statutory sick pay (SSP) if they are self-isolating after returning to the UK.
1. Do our employees have to tell us if they are quarantining?
Anyone who is asked to quarantine must comply unless they are exempted from the rules. This means they must return to their home immediately after entering the UK and remain there for 2 weeks.
Anyone who doesn’t report for work must follow their employer’s absence reporting procedure. Their absence should be recorded as “authorised” unless they are actually sick (in which case they would be entitled to SSP).
2. Can we ask staff to continue to work during quarantine?
This will depend on whether they can work from home and the company is happy for them to do so. If they can’t work from home, you must not ask them to return to their workplace.
3. Do we have to pay staff who can’t work from home and are self-isolating?
In most cases, if someone cannot return to work and working from home isn’t suitable, they are not entitled to be paid. However, it is best to inform staff that they may have to take a period of unpaid leave if they intend to travel abroad prior to their departure. Each case will have to be considered on its own facts and discretion should be applied for individuals who have been essentially ‘caught out’ by a change to the Government guidance during their trip.
Anyone who self-quarantines and does not have coronavirus symptoms is not entitled to statutory sick pay. As an alternative, employers should allow staff to take any remaining annual leave on their return.
4. Can we tell staff not to go abroad on holiday?
It is not usual for employers to dictate to employees what they can do in their private time. However, these are unusual circumstances and employers should make it clear to employees that if they go abroad to a location which is deemed ‘unsafe’ and have to quarantine on their return, they may have to take a period of unpaid leave or use any remaining annual leave they have during this period.
Bear in mind though, that some people will have booked their holidays pre-lockdown and may decide to go if they can, even if they have to quarantine afterwards.
6. What do we need to tell staff in advance of them going on holiday?
It is helpful for employers to set out their expectations in a policy or employee update so that your staff understand what might happen if they holiday abroad and are asked to self-isolate afterwards. This should include: notifying you if they have travelled abroad, reporting their absence (and how it will be recorded on their records), whether they will be paid during quarantine and, if not, whether they can take outstanding paid holiday.
7. Can we dismiss someone if they cannot return to work because they are in quarantine?
Employees do not have specific protection from being dismissed in these circumstances, but if they have one years’ service, they may be able to claim unfair dismissal. Employers would have to show that they had a fair reason for dismissal and went through a fair procedure – including allowing an appeal.
Not turning up for work is potentially, a fair reason, but a Tribunal is likely to be sympathetic to anyone who has returned to the UK to find that quarantine rules were imposed during their holiday and they have remained at home in line with government advice. Ultimately this will depend on the individual circumstances.
Amy Barr is a Solicitor in Worthingtons Commercial Solicitors, Belfast, who regularly advises organisations and employers on employment law issues, including queries arising from Covid-19. She can be contacted on 028 9043 4015 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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