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Quarantining Staff: What’s the latest?

Covid-19 is having a huge impact on businesses and quarantine rules for people returning from some holiday destinations have caused a further headache for bosses. Nick Wilson, partner in our dedicated employment law team, explains the legal position.

The government has introduced measures that require anyone returning to the UK from specific countries to quarantine or self-isolate for 14 days upon their return.

This is part of the government’s plan to slow the spread of coronavirus in the UK by isolating people who have travelled from countries with a rising number of cases.

The requirement to self-isolate for 14 days originally applied to most people arriving in the UK from overseas while we were in lockdown.

However, since then, the requirement has been relaxed and travellers from most countries were exempt from quarantine after arriving on our shores.

As the rules were relaxed, many people took the opportunity to travel to Europe for a summer holiday in the belief they would be able to return to work and life as normal when they got back.

However, due to a number of spikes in Covid-19 infections across Europe, in recent weeks the government has decided that a number of countries are now considered risk areas.

With little notice, UK travellers returning from a number of destinations have been told they must quarantine on their return home.

Spain and France are the most notable examples of this changing situation, where travellers were given little to no notice of the need to self-isolate.

In France’s case, it sparked a panic among travellers who wished to return to the UK before the need to quarantine kicked in. Thousands of travellers decided to head home early, so they could beat the looming quarantine deadline.

Other popular destinations, such as Croatia, Jamaica, Switzerland, Malta, Austria, the Czech Republic and Holland have also been added to the quarantine list. But, as of the end of August, people travelling to Turkey and Greece will not have to self-isolate upon their return.

Some key issues for businesses to consider

Quarantining or self-isolating when returning to the UK raises a number of employment law issues and some of the main headlines are explored below: –

  1. Quarantining after returning from a non-exempt country is mandatory. Failing to self-isolate is a criminal offence and can lead to a fine of up to £1,000.
  2. Being unable to attend work due to quarantining may be classed as an unauthorised absence and could give rise to disciplinary proceedings. However, employers looking to dismiss employees because of quarantining are advised to consider the risk of unfair dismissal claims. They should adopt a sympathetic approach where any quarantine requirement was imposed after the employee set off on their travels.
  3. An employee who is required to self-isolate for 14 days is not entitled to normal pay if they are unable to work. If the employee is able to work from home they should be paid as usual.
  4. If the employee has been abroad because of work and is then required to quarantine, employers are advised to adopt a more understanding approach to pay, or risk an unhappy employee.
  5. An employee who is required to quarantine for 14 days is not entitled to receive sick pay or Statutory Sick Pay, unless they would otherwise be entitled to under the law or contract of employment.
  6. Employers may wish to agree that the employee takes paid annual leave or unpaid leave during the quarantine period if they cannot otherwise work.
  7. The Working Time Regulations 1998 allow an employer to cancel an employee’s annual leave, so long as the employer meets a number of requirements relating to giving notice of the cancellation. Whilst there may be genuine concern on the employer’s part to reduce the risk of infection through travel abroad, such a move may be unpopular and could put the employee out of pocket financially, unless the employer compensates them. The employee may also argue that the employer’s actions were unreasonable and entitle them to resign and claim constructive dismissal.

These are just some of the issues that may arise when staff have to quarantine on return from holiday.

If you would like to discuss any of the implications for your business, get in touch with the employment team on 01482 325242, or email directly on nick.wilson@andrewjackson.co.uk

Correct as at 4pm 03.09.2020

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