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FAQ: Dealing with employees returning from holiday during the coronavirus pandemic

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Those arriving in the UK from overseas are required to provide contact information and undergo a 14-day quarantine period if they have been to a country that is not on the list of low-risk destinations for which there is in place a ‘travel corridor’. 

However, as the infection rate changes the list of countries in this category is under constant review and may change quickly meaning that employees who have booked a holiday in a ‘safe’ country may find that their destination is now regarded as high risk and they will be subject to the quarantine restrictions.  

That can lead to a number of employment issues on the employee’s return.

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Your questions answered

  1. Can an employee avoid having to quarantine if they are tested as negative on their return?

    That doesn’t change the position – they will still be subject to quarantine and have to self-isolate for 14 days. 
  2. Does the employee need to inform their employer where they have been on holiday?

    As part of ensuring that the workplace is ‘COVID secure’ policies will need to have been put in place to protect the health and safety of all employees. This will include requiring employees to notify employers whether they intend during their holiday to travel abroad. It should be made clear that employees will need to inform the employer if they have visited a country that is not included in a safe travel corridor and that in those circumstances they will be required to remain in quarantine for 14 days. 
  3. Can an employer refuse the employee’s request for holiday?

    Yes, usually any period of holiday has to be requested and agreed. However, if holidays have already been agreed the employer will not usually be entitled to withdraw their consent. 
  4. Should the employee work from home?

    Yes if it is possible. The employee will need to self-isolate but they may be able to still carry out their work. If this is possible the employer and employee should agree this work arrangement for at least the 14-day quarantine period and possibly longer. 
  5. What if the employee attends work?

    The employee should not be allowed to attend work during the quarantine period. The 14-day quarantine is a legal requirement there is no element of choice on the part of the employee. If they fail to self-isolate, they commit a criminal offence and can be fined. This can be up to £1,000 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and £480 in Scotland. There are fines up to £5,000 for persistent offenders>
  6. Is the employee entitled to sick pay?

    No an employee who is self-isolating due to being in the quarantine period will not be entitled to statutory sick pay. It is only from when they show symptoms or anyone in their household or social bubble shows symptoms that they will be eligible to receive SSP.
  7. Should the employee be allowed extra holiday?

    The employee and employer may agree that during the quarantine period they will take further paid holiday. However, that will only be possible if the employee has sufficient leave to take and it may cause problems during the remainder of the year if they use up their entire entitlement at this one time.
  8. What alternatives are there?

    If no home-based duties can be carried and paid holiday is not available a period of unpaid leave could be agreed. 

    It might also be possible to agree with the employee that they shall be placed on furlough. In order to do this, they must have already undertaken a period of qualifying furlough before 1 July 2020.
  9. Can an employee be told not to go abroad for a holiday?

    An employer cannot normally dictate what an employee does in their own time provided it does not adversely impact the business. It would not usually be regarded as a reasonable instruction to tell an employee they could not go on holiday abroad. However, employers should highlight to employees that they will have to follow any quarantine advice in place and that the situation regarding which countries are safe is rapidly changing. Where this may result in an employee being on unpaid leave for two weeks it might discourage them from going. 
  10. Can an employee be dismissed for being unable to attend work for the quarantine period?

    If the employee has over two years’ service they have the right not to be unfairly dismissed. Whilst it might be argued that the enforced 14-day absence provides a potentially fair ground for dismissal there is a risk that a decision to dismiss will be found to fall outside the “band of reasonable responses” particularly where quarantine rules were imposed during the course of the holiday. As with any dismissal judging the fairness will depend on the individual circumstances and an employee who deliberately booked a holiday against advice to a high-risk area immediately before a particularly busy period for the business might find that an Employment Judge is less sympathetic to their claim. 
  11. Are there any exemptions?

    Yes, there is a long list of travellers exempt from border rules in the UK. These include employees engaged in urgent or essential work on electronic communications networks, road hauliers and seasonal agricultural workers to name just a few. 

    The rules relating to exemptions might differ depending on where you arrive in the UK. For example, there was an exemption from the requirement to self-isolate for registered health or care professionals. However, for those employees based in England only that exemption was removed on 31 July 2020. They will now need to self-isolate for the 14 days from their arrival.  

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