Q&A – Employees who have to quarantine on their return from abroad
31 July 2020
Q: A number of our employees were in Spain when the Government announced the 14 day quarantine period would apply on their return to the UK. As their employer, what are we required to pay them for the quarantine period?
A: The position may depend on the nature of the employee’s role. If they are able to carry out their duties from home, then during the quarantine period they should be allowed to do that and should still be paid as normal.
If they are not able to carry out their duties from home, the position is more complicated. The Government have stated that in this situation, the employee would not be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay. Therefore in most cases, the leave would be unpaid, unless you choose to pay them for all or part of the period, or they choose to take it as annual leave.
Also, the position might depend on the reason for their trip abroad. If they were away on business, then they are likely to feel it is unreasonable for them to lose pay, and it may amount to a breach of contract if you do not pay them for the quarantine period.
Q: Do employees have to tell us if they have been abroad and are required to quarantine?
A: Given that (as per our answer above) there is no entitlement to pay for people who cannot work during the quarantine period, many people have expressed concern that some employees may not be honest about their situation because of the financial pressures that would involve.
There is no specific requirement to notify the employer, but there are strict penalties for anyone who breaches the quarantine rules – failure to self-isolate for 14 days would be a criminal offence with a fine of up to £1,000.
To try and monitor the situation as best you can, employers may wish to specifically notify staff that they are required to notify their manager if they go abroad, and that failure to do so may lead to disciplinary action.
Q: I saw that in interviews Dominic Raab has said that the law gives protection to those who are dismissed for not attending work due to the requirement to quarantine. Is he right?
A: No, there is no specific legal protection for those who are dismissed or subjected to disciplinary action for absence from work when their reason for absence is that they are complying with the quarantine rules. The Government has said that it expects employers to ‘show quarantining employees the flexibility they need’ but that does not amount to a legal obligation.
For those who have 2 years’ service or more, unfair dismissal protection will apply, and it is likely that an Employment Tribunal would consider it unfair to dismiss for absence in these circumstances. However, there is no equivalent protection for those who do not have sufficient length of service to claim unfair dismissal.
Having said that, employers who take disciplinary action against those who do not come to work because of quarantine do risk sending out the wrong message, as it might discourage people from being honest about their situation (such as from a Test and Trace point of view – see our article about Test and Trace here) which could lead to the virus being spread.
Q: We have an employee who has told us she is planning to go to France during her pre-booked leave in August. We are concerned that the rules may change either before or during her holiday and she may be required to quarantine for 14 days on her return. We do not feel that her role can be carried out from home. What should we do?
A: If you are saying that she cannot work from home on her return, then if she is required to quarantine and cannot therefore come to work, she would need to be on unpaid leave. Alternatively, she could take annual leave to cover the quarantine period.
The main thing to do at the moment is decide on the approach you would take, and make her (and all other staff) aware of the position. That way before she goes she can make an informed decision. Whereas the people who were in Spain last weekend may have been taken somewhat by surprise by the rule change, it is obviously not going to be as much of a shock if quarantine were to be introduced for visits to other countries from now on, so employees who cannot work from home need to be aware of the risk of unpaid leave if they choose to go ahead with a holiday abroad this summer.
If you are an employer dealing with a coronavirus issue, then we can help. Please call us on 01243 836840 for a no obligation chat, or email us at [email protected].