How Should Employers Handle Staff Quarantine?
How Should Employers Handle Staff Quarantine

How Should Employers Handle Staff Quarantine?

On Saturday 25th July 2020, the Government announced that anyone arriving from Spain from 26th July (the next day) onwards would have to undergo a 14-day quarantine period following their arrival, how should the Employers handle staff quarantine?

As you can imagine, many people were not happy with this announcement, especially employers that have to handle staff quarantine as this would make a return to work not possible unless they could work from home. One of the major talking points is that these workers will not be eligible for SSP (Statutory Sick Pay) and the impact this will have on employers and commitments.

With this latest announcement, employers will now have to put in place procedures for dealing with any employees returning to the UK from abroad.

While COVID-19 seems to be the only topic at hand currently, this information is absolutely essential for employers.

Who needs to isolate?

Following a recent UK Government announcement, individuals returning from mainland Spain, the Balearic Islands, and the Canary Islands are required to self-isolate for a mandatory two-week period.

This decision has significantly affected approximately 1.2 million UK residents in August alone, as most cannot avail themselves of statutory exemptions from quarantine.

While many vacationers expressed frustration over the abrupt policy change, it’s enacted as a protective measure in response to a surge in coronavirus cases.

Additionally, there exists a comprehensive list of exempted workers, available for reference here.

For those exempted from self-isolation, employees must provide a letter from their employer upon return to the UK. This letter should outline their specialized work details and contact information to facilitate smooth re-entry into the workforce.

Are employees required to return to work?

If an employee cannot perform their duties remotely from home, they are not obligated to return to their workplace and should not be encouraged to violate quarantine regulations.

Employees who fail to adhere to quarantine rules may face fines of £1,000 initially, with subsequent breaches resulting in penalties of up to £3,200.

Requesting employees to disregard quarantine mandates constitutes a criminal offense and must be strictly avoided. Whenever feasible, employers should encourage all employees to continue working remotely and establish protocols to support effective remote work.

In cases where remote work is not feasible, employers are responsible for determining how to manage the two-week absence effectively.

Are employees entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)?

If an employee is under quarantine, there is no entitlement or eligibility to receive Statutory Sick Pay.

As employees are not technically taking time off work due to illness, they do not qualify to receive any sort of sick pay during this period, despite the rule being placed on them by the Government.

If an employee were to test positive for coronavirus (COVID-19) during quarantine, they would be entitled to receive SSP from the first day of infection. If the employee had other symptoms and felt unwell, they would be able to claim SSP after the usual 4 days.

Once a COVID-19 test comes back positive, employees will have to complete 7 days of self-isolation or finish the 14-day quarantine period, whichever is longer.

Even if a test comes back negative, employees will still need to finish the 2 weeks of quarantine after traveling, regardless of diagnosis.

Can employees take holidays/unpaid leave?

If employees are unable to work from home, they may request to use any remaining holidays to cover the quarantine period if they have a sufficient amount.

Employers also have the power to allow employees to take days from their 2021 holiday allowance, as long as they do not fall foul of the statutory holiday requirements for each leave year. However, this is not mandatory and is up to the discretion of the employer.

If an employee is unable to work from home and does not have enough holidays to cover the 14 day period, then the absence should be treated as unpaid leave.

While employers have been asked to be flexible in this situation, there is nothing that legally entitles an employee to receive full pay whilst in quarantine.

Can employees be subject to disciplinary actions?

While the Government has said that employees should not be penalised for going into self-isolation following a return to the UK, there is an argument for potential disciplinary actions.

If an employee has chosen to go on holiday after being advised not to by the employer and that trip results in a 2 week quarantine period, the employer has the option to take disciplinary action against the employee.

However, employers should be careful when handling disciplinary actions/potential dismissal as clearly stated travel/holiday policies will be needed in order to fairly proceed.

What to do next?

Going forward, all employers need to have policies in place to deal with employee holidays that may result in quarantine if they are traveling abroad.

It also needs to state the proceedings during the quarantine period, and the details of the type of leave given. For example, if they will be required to taken it as holiday leave or if they face any disciplinary actions.

We also recommend confirming any pre-booked holidays with employees and inform staff of any potential issues with booking time abroad in the near future.

We generally advise against booking any holidays abroad before the current situation gets any better. For more information on how to self-isolate, click here.

If you’d like to learn more, get in touch with one of our experts today or get involved in the conversation by tweeting us @wurkplaceltd.

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