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Quarantine - What are your rights?

The Government has, very helpfully, produced a list of countries to which UK citizens can travel freely without facing mandatory quarantine upon return.

With a number of recent and rather last minute announcements where popular holiday destinations, such as Spain and France, were added to the mandatory quarantine list, many employees have found themselves in the unenviable position of returning home to face a mandatory 14 day self-isolation period for which they hadn’t planned. Risking a fine of up to £1000 if they break that self-isolation this can, quite understandably, raise a number of questions around attending work. 

So, how do employees and employers deal with this situation?

Are employees returning from non-exempt countries entitled to statutory sick pay?

Employees who self-isolate on return from countries where the government require mandatory self-isolation are not entitled to statutory sick pay, unless they develop Coronavirus symptoms. It’s also unlikely that company sick pay schemes would also cover this scenario but employees and employers should double check to make sure that is the case. 

How should an employer deal with employees who have to self-isolate?

Employers should look to take a flexible approach to dealing with employees returning from non-exempt countries, otherwise they risk any number of potential employment tribunal claims.

If they were to dismiss an employee who had worked with for the company for 2+ years, for example, because the Government had changed the rules whilst they were abroad, the employee may well bring an unfair dismissal claim (and all indications are that they would succeed with that claim).

However, if the country the employee intends to travel to is already on the non-exempt list and they know they will have to quarantine upon return, the employer may wish to take a different approach and it’s likely they would be entitled to do so. This could amount to a matter of misconduct and the employer could look to begin disciplinary procedures.

If that’s the case, what practical steps can an employer take?

First, the employer should look at the reason for travel. If the employee was travelling abroad on behalf of the company then the employer would be safest to continue to pay their wages at the full rate. Otherwise, an employee may well resign and bring a claim for constructive dismissal.

If the trip was for a holiday, the employer should consider whether the employee can properly do their own job or other administrative duties from home following their return to the UK. If they can, then the employer should allow the employee to work from home whilst they self-isolate.

If that does not prove possible, the employer should then look at whether the employee has any remaining annual leave to see if that can be used to cover some or all of the quarantine period. 

Alternatively, the employer could look at whether they are able to re-furlough the employee. They would be able to do this provided the employee had previously been furloughed for at least a continuous 3 week period before 1 July 2020. 

The most important thing that employers can do is keep an open channel of communication with their employees. Generally, the Company should have a policy in place that sets out that the employee is travelling at their own risk and what steps the employer will take upon their return to the UK. Making sure that everybody is on the same page at an early stage can save time, stress and money in the long run.

Can an employer stop an employee from travelling abroad?

Employers should be wary about putting in place a blanket ban on all foreign travel. It is highly likely this would be discriminatory as employees may need to travel for religious or other personal reasons. 

In specific cases, however, an employer can give an employee notice cancelling pre-approved annual leave requests. The notice must be the same number of days that the employee intends to take as annual leave (for example, 5 days’ annual leave requires 5 days’ notice).

The above article has been written for information only and should not be relied upon for legal advice.  

For specific legal advice and assistance please call us, or email us using the contact form below.

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