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Employee travel quarantine – guidance for employers

The UK’s recent announcement that all non-essential travel to Spain (including the Balearic and Canary Islands) would be restricted, as well as imposing a 14 day quarantine period for those returning from these destinations, was met with groans of frustration in many households.

Reports that COVID-19 cases are rising in some areas of Europe and the threat of a second wave in the UK means that travellers returning to the UK from other countries may soon face a similar fate. 

With this in mind, many businesses are grappling with key issues, including the rights of those employees returning from abroad and what should employers do about staff who can’t work because they have to quarantine?

My employee is required to quarantine – what should I do?

Employees have no entitlement to statutory sick pay if they are required to quarantine unless they become sick during that time. Likewise, where an employee is unable to undertake any work for their employer owing to quarantine, it is unlikely that they will have any entitlement to be paid. One exception to this may be employees who benefit from some contractual salary protection or benefit in kind, such as income protection.

There is no issue if employees can and are willing to work from home. For those who cannot, what approach should employers take?

If you have staff who have recently travelled abroad before any quarantine announcement was made, we recommend a sensible approach.  Your options here include allowing a further period of annual leave to cover the quarantine period or reaching agreement with the employee that they can take some unpaid leave.

Another option to consider is utilising the furlough scheme.  If the employee has already been furloughed in the past, it may be possible to put them back on furlough for the period of quarantine and claim funds through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Employers would need to make sure that they comply with all other requirements of the scheme (including the need for a furlough agreement to be in place with the employee).

What about employees’ future travel plans?

Employers may be wondering – what about employees who are looking to book holidays now, knowing that other destinations may soon be added to the list of countries where quarantine restrictions on return might be in place?

With this in mind, employers may decide to write to their staff now setting out clearly what will happen in that scenario, including any entitlement to pay. Employers should also think carefully about how to deal with any staff who go abroad already knowing that they will have to quarantine on their return to the UK.  One factor to consider is whether the employee will be working from home anyway – meaning quarantine is unlikely to present any practical change for the employer.  It is an entirely different story if staff find themselves unable to work due to quarantine, having taken the decision to go on holiday despite the risk. It is reasonable for employers to factor in how likely the employee was to have known about the requirement to quarantine on return to the UK, before determining an appropriate course of action.

Being organised and clearly communicating with staff on this issue is important to avoid significant upset and inconvenience all round. If a free consultation on this or any other employment law related issue would be of help, don’t hesitate to reach out to us

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