More countries are now being added to the list of countries that travellers are required to self-isolate for 14 days. This article explores what these changes means for employers and employees.
Can an employee returning to the UK from the countries on the list come into work?
No, an individual returning from these countries cannot come into the workplace and must self-isolate for a period of 14 days unless an exception applies. However, if an employee can work from home, then they can continue to work from home during the quarantine period and should be paid their normal pay.
There are some specific exceptions to the quarantine requirements. For example, road haulage and freight workers, some workers engaged in emergency works relating to certain essential services and certain workers with specialist technical skills where those skills are essential to ensure the continued production and supply of goods are not required to self-isolate on their return to the UK.
Are employees entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) or any other pay during quarantine?
The Government’s guidance on SSP makes it clear that employees cannot get SSP if they are self-isolating after entering or returning to the UK and they do not need to self-isolate for any other reason. For example where they are self-isolating because they or someone in their household or support bubble has symptoms of Covid-19 or because they have been contacted by NHS test and trace and asked to self-isolate.
Since SSP is not payable, it is also unlikely that employees who are entitled to company sick pay for other types of self-isolation will be entitled to company sick pay during employee quarantine, unless your contract of employment or sick pay policy provides otherwise.
The use of the furlough scheme is also not appropriate if the person was not furloughed before the holiday and if the company has work for the individual. This is because the Government guidance on furlough states that employees “should not be placed on furlough for a period simply because they are on holiday for that period.”
What are the options for employers?
What can employees use to cover the quarantine leave?
Employers may choose to offer some pay to employees to avoid employees breaking quarantine and putting colleagues at risk and/or to help employees manage the unexpected loss of salary that they would otherwise suffer as a consequence of travelling to these countries. It would be up to the employer to choose whether to do this and the amount it is willing to pay. For example, you could pay the employee their usual pay, or you could make a payment equal to SSP.
Alternatively, you could provide that employees must book additional holiday, if they have enough left in the holiday year, to cover this extra time off. Otherwise, you could require employees to take unpaid leave to cover the quarantine period.
What happens at the end of the quarantine period?
If an employee has complied with quarantine requirements, then unless they have developed Covid-19 symptoms or are otherwise required to self-isolate under another aspect of the Government guidance, from a health and safety perspective it should be safe for you to allow them to re-enter the workplace at the end of the quarantine period. However, you may wish hold a telephone return to work interview with them before they come back into the workplace to check that neither they nor anyone in their household or support bubbles have developed symptoms of Covid-19.
What about employees who have booked holidays to these countries but haven’t yet travelled?
It is not recommended that you instruct employees to cancel holidays or not to make personal trips overseas. Instead, communicate clearly to employees what your policy on quarantine periods is, for example if they will be required to take holiday or unpaid leave to cover the quarantine period, or if you will pay them in full or in part for the period of quarantine.
What if an employee wishes to cancel a holiday to these countries?
Employers do not have to agree to an employee cancelling their annual leave. It may be useful to the business to continue with their planned leave even if they are not travelling overseas, or it may be useful for operational purposes to allow them to cancel it and remain at work.
Whatever you decide, ensure you are reasonable and consistent in your approach.
For planning purposes, you may wish to introduce a requirement for employees to inform you of any overseas travel plans now. Alternatively, you may wish to include a section on your leave application form requiring the employee to state where they are going and (if applicable) how they plan to cover the quarantine period.
Tips for looking forwards to the rest of the summer holiday period
Here are some tips on how to handle leave for the remainder of the holiday period.
- Be clear on how you will treat quarantine periods following holidays going forwards, including where a country is unexpectedly removed from the exempt list of countries.
- Require individuals to inform you if they are travelling overseas and to what country.
- If employees come to work in breach of quarantine rules this will be considered gross misconduct.
- Consider implementing return to work interviews by phone at the end of quarantine, as for other types of self-isolation.
- For personal overseas travel that is arranged to a country that is not on the exempt list when booked, you could also provide that if an employee has not agreed with you before they travel overseas that they can be absent for the quarantine period, you can treat the absence as unauthorised and take disciplinary action. However, it would not be appropriate to do this if a country is removed from the exempt list after an employee has begun their visit there.
If employees know in advance what absence is permitted, whether the quarantine period will be paid or unpaid and whether they will be permitted to cancel the leave if quarantine is required, or imposed during their holiday, may influence their decision when they consider where they wish to travel for their holidays, and may dissuade someone from booking an overseas holiday.
For further assistance or if you have any queries, please contact Hill HR on 01905 885456 or firstname.lastname@example.org