Dealing with employees who need to quarantine

Employment solicitor Briony McDermott looks at how employers deal with employees who have to quarantine after a holiday.

Over the weekend the government confirmed that it was removing Spain from the list of countries on its travel corridor scheme.

It meant anyone returning from Spain, including the Balearic and Canary Islands,  must self-isolate at a nominated address on their return to the UK for 14 days. This decision was in response to a number of localised spikes in the infection rate in Spain.

It is likely that as infection rates fluctuate in other countries, further restrictions could be imposed by the government.

Briony said: “Anyone who is asked to quarantine must return to their home address immediately after entering the UK and remain there for 14 days.

“They are not allowed to leave their home for any reason, meaning going to work, shopping for food and exercising are all off limits.

“Failure to adhere to the quarantine period is a criminal offence and can be punishable by fine of up to £1,000.

“This raises a number of questions for employers if their employees receive an instruction to quarantine on their return from work.”

1. Do employees have to tell us if they are quarantining?

Employees will be expected to comply with the absence reporting procedure if they are instructed to quarantine. The absence should be considered an authorised absence provided that it is properly reported, and should not be considered sickness absence unless they confirm that they are actually unwell.

2. Can staff work during quarantine and if not do we have to pay them?

Employees are unable to leave their home during quarantine, but if they are able to work from home (and they are not unwell) then there is no reason they should not do so. In an employee who has been instructed to quarantine attends work then you should immediately send them home.

In most cases, if an employee is unable to attend work (and can't work from home) would not be entitled to pay.

Anyone who quarantines and does not have coronavirus symptoms would not be entitled to SSP, which means that if they are unable to work from home employees could be put under financial pressure. You may therefore think about allowing the employee to use any remaining annual leave entitlement for the quarantine period, even if this is contrary to your usual annual leave policy. 

3. Can we tell staff not to go abroad?

You cannot dictate what your staff do out of work and how they use their annual leave, but you can communicate with staff that if they do choose to travel abroad they must follow any quarantine advice from the government and will not be entitled to pay if they cannot work from home.

One thing you may consider is cancelling holiday that has been authorised, however this is risky and may well cause unrest amongst staff which could lead to claims for losses incurred, and potentially, constructive dismissal.

In the absence of a contractual process for cancelling leave, the Working Time Regulations states that you must give as much notice as the leave you want to cancel. Therefore, you if want to cancel two weeks’ leave you have to give two weeks’ written notice.

Briony concluded: “It is a good idea to send out a circular email or announcement to staff so that they understand what might happen if they travel abroad and are asked to quarantine afterwards.

“This should reiterate that they should inform you of any travel plans they may have so that you are able to plan as far as possible, how to report that they are being told to quarantine and what the arrangements are in respect of pay.”

For further information on employment legal matters contact Briony McDermott at briony.mcdermott@wake-smith.com 

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