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.

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

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?

According to the recent announcement by the UK Government, anyone returning from mainland Spain, the Balearic Islands and the Canary Islands will need to self-isolate for 2 weeks.

This decision is said to impact around 1.2 million UK residents in August alone, with the majority not being able to rely on statutory excuses to forego the quarantine period.

Many holidaymakers were frustrated at this sudden announcement, but it is being implemented as a way to protect people in response to a spike in coronavirus cases.

There is also a full list of workers that do not need to isolate that you can find here.

In these cases, employees who are not required to self-isolate will need to present a letter from their employer when returning to the UK, detailing their specialist work and contact details.

Are employees required to return to work?

If an employee is unable to work from home, they are not required to return to work and should not be encouraged to break the quarantine rules.

Employees who breach quarantine can be subject to a £1,000 fine, with additional breaches leading to fines of up to £3,200.

Asking employees to go against the quarantine rules is technically a criminal offence, so should be avoided at all costs. Where possible, all employees should be advised to work from home and procedures should be put in place to allow remote working.

If working remotely is out of the question, then it is down to the employer to decide how to handle the 2 week absence.

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 travelling, 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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