COVID-19 and Travel Quarantine – FAQs for Employers

Posted on: August 6th, 2020

The Government has announced that people arriving into the UK from Belgium, the Bahamas and Andorra will have to quarantine for 14 days. This follows hot on the heels of the Transport Secretary’s recent announcement imposing a 14 day quarantine on everyone arriving from Spain and Luxembourg, and it is likely that if Coronavirus cases continue to increase we will see more countries added to the quarantine list.

As we are in the midst of the summer holidays, with thousands of Britons enjoying the ability to travel whilst they can, it is unsurprising that the sudden announcements caused confusion and concern amongst travellers and employers alike, as to the impact these measures may have on employment.

This concern was heightened by the Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, who, during an interview with Sophy Ridge on Sunday, repeatedly stated that if a worker ‘has followed the law in relation to quarantine and self-isolating in the way they should, they can’t have penalties taken against them’. He continued by maintaining that workers ‘cannot be penalised in this country lawfully for following the rules and the law that’s in place’. Unfortunately for Mr Raab, this is not quite accurate…

We take a look at some of the employment law FAQs and implications of travel quarantine below:

 

What does quarantine actually mean for our staff members?

A worker returning from one of the relevant countries must travel directly to the place at which they are to self-isolate for the quarantine period. They must then self-isolate at this ‘declared accommodation’ for the full 14 days, which can be the individual’s own home, a friend or family member’s house, or a hotel or other temporary accommodation.

The individual cannot go out to work, school or visit public areas, even for shopping or collecting medication. All exercise must be carried out within the individual’s home or garden. Individuals who do not self-isolate can be fined £1,000, with the fine increasing to £3,200 if there is a failure to provide details of their location.

Further details on the specific quarantine rules can be found in the government’s guidance here.

Can quarantined employees continue to work for us?

This will depend upon the nature of their role. If the individual is able to work from home and you are comfortable for them to do so, the employee can simply work from home during the quarantine period.

However, if they cannot work from home, the individual must not attend the workplace. You cannot ask them to come into the workplace during the quarantine period. They must immediately be instructed to go home should they turn up unannounced.

What do we have to pay our employees during quarantine?

If an employee is compelled to quarantine for 14 days upon their return to the UK and cannot work from home, the individual is not entitled to be paid.

There is also no entitlement to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) during the quarantine period, and it is unlikely that any company sick pay will be payable during a period in which the individual if fit to work but does not attend. However, note that they may become entitled to SSP (or company sick pay, if applicable) for another reason during this time if, for example, they begin to develop COVID-19 symptoms.

Some employers may wish to allow employees to take any remaining holiday to cover this 14-day quarantine period, so that employees are not out of pocket; however, there is no obligation to approve such a request.

Can we dismiss a staff member if they cannot work due to quarantine?

Despite Mr Raab’s comments, there is no specific protection from dismissal in these circumstances. However, employers should bear in mind that all employees with over two years’ service have protection from unfair dismissal, meaning that you would have to show a fair reason for dismissal and have followed a fair procedure in doing so.

We recommend that employers take specific advice prior to dismissing employees for this reason, to ensure the legal risks have been fully considered. 

Can we tell our employees not to go abroad on holiday?

Typically, an employer cannot dictate where the employee goes on holiday during their annual leave. However, given the circumstances, it would certainly be advisable to contact all employees to remind them of the strict quarantine obligations which may apply upon their return from holiday.

This communication to staff can set out the position on pay detailed above and that any quarantine period is likely to be unpaid, which may dissuade staff from travelling abroad. Employers can also ask their employees to inform them where they intend to travel to during their holiday, so that the business can keep a record of foreign travel to plan cover and ensure quarantine rules are being strictly adhered to.

 

If you have any further questions about the impact of quarantine on your workforce, or you would like assistance communicating with staff members about the quarantine rules, the Employment Team at Coffin Mew would be happy to help, so please do get in touch.