An employer’s guide to handling staff quarantine
On Saturday 25 July 2020, the government announced that anyone returning from Spain would need to self isolate for 14 days following a surge in coronavirus cases. The quarantine rules mean that unless an employee can work from home, they will be unable to attend work for 14 days following return to the UK.
We look below at some of the key questions for employers in light of the recent announcement and the risk of further changes over the summer.
Are employee’s who have to self-isolate entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)?
The official advice from the government is that employees are not entitled to statutory sick pay if they are self-isolating after returning to the UK.
Is there any legislation that would mean employee are entitled to full pay?
As things stand, there is no legislation that would oblige an employer to pay an employee in these circumstances. Employers have been told to be flexible and are encouraged to do what they can to avoid penalising employees. Employers may also have specific contractual agreements setting out various types of leave entitlements but it seems unlikely that many will cover this eventuality.
What options to employers have in this situation?
* Work from home- If your employees can work from home, then they should do so during the quarantine period. That way employees are not spreading the virus and are still being paid as they are able to undertake work. Consideration can be given to whether an employee can do some work from home during the period of quarantine. Even if they can only do part of their role then they could be paid at least in part for their contribution which is clearly better than nothing.
* Unpaid leave- Due to the answers given above it is likely that many employers will have no option but to ask employees to take unpaid leave if they are unable to carry out work from home.
* Annual leave- You could relax your holiday policy and allow employees to take any remaining holiday on their return to cover some or all of the period of quarantine, even if they cannot give the normal period of notice expected.
* Dismissal- Not turning up for work is a potentially fair reason for dismissal especially if an employee went on holiday to a country which had quarantine rules already imposed. However, an employer would still have to show that the reason for dismissal was in the band of “reasonable responses” which would depend on the specific circumstances. We would not normally recommend dismissal in these circumstances even for short serving staff who have less than two years length of service and do not therefore have protection from unfair dismissal.
Is there anything employers can do to clear up any confusion?
Following this latest announcement, it has become clear that circumstances can change at short notice. This combined with the fact that we are still only two weeks into the school holidays could pose problems for employees and employers alike in the coming weeks and months.
It would therefore be helpful to implement a policy, or at least provide a staff update, so that employees understand the implications if they holiday abroad and are asked to self-isolate afterwards. The policy should cover an obligation to inform the employer that they have travelled abroad, the name of their destination, duration of their absence, what pay (if any) they will receive during the quarantine period and whether they will be permitted to take any outstanding holiday to cover some or all of any period of quarantine. Prior notification that their work type is considered suitable for home working would also be helpful.
If you have any further questions on any of the issues raised above, please contact our employment team at firstname.lastname@example.org for any further advice. This general guidance is correct as of 28 July 2020 but may be subject to change. We strongly recommend that specific advice is sought as needed.