Partner Tim Clark, in Blandy & Blandy solicitors’ employment law team, explains whether employees returning from overseas who are required to self-isolate or quarantine should expect to be paid by their employer.

On  July 25, 2020, the Government updated its guidance on travelling to Spain including Spanish islands such as Tenerife, Ibiza and Majorca.

Anyone returning from Spain, or any other country not currently on the Government’s travel corridors exemption list, is required to self-isolate or quarantine for a period of 14 days.

This has been the subject of much controversy and, while the quarantine period may change, it is also quite possible that the list of countries to which this will apply will increase. 

This presents a number of difficulties for employees who have recently returned, are abroad now or are due to go away shortly and for their employers.

Will my employer pay me if I have to quarantine?

Employees are not automatically entitled to receive pay if they return from an affected region and find themselves unable to work due to quarantine restrictions.

This is likely to affect those who are unable to work from home and are not able to go to their work place.

In this situation, communication with the employer at the earliest opportunity is very important.

This will help the employer to deal with any immediate staffing issues and allow the best opportunity for an alternative solution to be found. It is also the best approach to ensuring a sympathetic response and clarity on the short-term financial impact.

Where it is possible for an employee to work from home whilst self-isolating, that should, of course, provide a solution which allows the employee to continue to work and be paid.

What if I am unwell?

If an employee has, or is displaying symptoms of, Covid-19 and needs to self-isolate, they should be eligible to receive statutory sick pay at the rate of £95.85 per week.

Any entitlement to additional company sick pay will be subject to the employee’s contract and the employer’s policies and procedures.  

What can an employer do?

Whilst employers cannot stop an employee from choosing to travel to a particular destination during annual leave they can remind employees of the Government’s guidance and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s latest travel advice and point out that foreign travel does involve a risk of quarantine being imposed on the employee’s return which may impact on their ability to work and entitlement to be paid. 

This will, of course, be of greater concern and importance to those employers who cannot accommodate working from home in this situation, particularly where the employee’s availability on their return from leave is critical to their operation.

In that case, an employer may consider warning the employee against travel and of the fact that sanctions may be imposed if the employee takes an unreasonable risk which results in having to quarantine.  

Employers also need to consider how they will treat employees wanting to change or cancel annual leave, sometimes at short notice because of changes in travel plans.

Of course, many face a situation where employees have accrued a substantial amount of holiday which needs to be taken and the cancellation of an individual’s particular travel plans does not change that.

It may be tempting to accommodate requests from a few people caught by the Spanish situation but consideration needs to be given to the fact that more people may have similar requests later in the holiday season.

A consistent approach, even if it is that booked annual leave must be taken regardless of travel not being possible, is the best way of avoiding grievances about different treatment.     

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