Quarantining arrivals from Spain – how should employers respond?
Amidst news that Spain has been removed from the UK's list of safe destinations after it saw a spike in the number of coronavirus cases, employers and employees alike are seeking guidance of what to do if and when holiday-makers are not able to come back to work. The government’s stance is clear in that statutory sick pay (SSP) is not applicable for a period of quarantine after entering or leaving the UK. There is growing pressure on the government to change this and treat quarantine in the same way as shielding. This would then allow SSP to be paid and then reclaimed from the government. However, as a change in approach is looking unlikely, what can employers do if they get caught up in the quarantine rules?
Can the employee work from home?
If so, then this is a sensible solution.
Can you furlough the employee?
You would need to be confident that this was within the spirit of the Job Retention Scheme and that the conditions for furlough that apply from 1 July 2020 had been met.
Could you agree to the employee taking paid leave?
If they have enough holiday accrued or left for the year, you could give notice to direct the employee to take the time as annual leave. There are rules around how much notice is required. You could agree they can make up the time in the future.
Could the employee have to take time off as unpaid leave?
If an employee is concerned about not being paid then they may feel they cannot afford to quarantine and instead return to work, placing other team members at risk. Alternatively, they could say they are off sick, which could result in them being paid at least SSP. Either way, you are to some extent relying on the integrity of the employee and managing any situations in which you may feel there has been a breach of trust via a disciplinary process.
Ahead of employees taking their leave, an employer could make clear how they will manage quarantine absences and, depending on the role involved, an employer could go even further and make it clear they do not expect employees to travel overseas as they are required to be back at work post-leave. However, if you are clear with employees from the outset that they will not be paid for any period of quarantine this could influence their decisions about future travel without giving a specific instruction not to do so.
As this scenario could well be repeated with travel to other countries and regions in the coming months, having a strategy now is a way to make things easier to manage in the future.
Pam Loch is a Solicitor and Managing Director with Loch Employment Law. Pam gives more in-depth guidance on the issue of travel during the coronavirus pandemic here.