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Since 8 June, all passengers returning to the UK from overseas have had to self-isolate for 14 days. According to the Government guidance, during the self-isolation (quarantine) period, returning travellers are prohibited from going to work, school, any public areas, or using public transport or taxis.

In addition, those returning from abroad must complete a form providing contact and travel information before they travel to the UK, and provide evidence that they have done this when they arrive at the UK border.  This will ensure that they can be contacted if they, or anyone they have been in contact with, develops the virus. The information provided will also allow the authorities to monitor compliance with the new quarantine rules. Travellers will also need to provide details of countries or territories they have been in or through during the previous 14 days.

The quarantine rules are reviewed by the Government every three weeks. The first review took place in the week beginning 29 June, with the Government deciding that the rules should continue in force, but introducing a list of ‘travel corridor’ countries, whose risk level for transmission of the virus is considered to be lower. Travellers returning from any of these countries on or after 10 July are exempt from the self-isolation requirement unless they have travelled in or through a non-exempt country within the previous 14 days. However, they will still have to complete the contact form. The list of exempt countries will be kept under constant review so that the self-isolation requirement can be re-imposed if the risk level from any given country increases. 

Initially, these exemptions only apply to travellers returning from the listed countries to England, as the devolved administrations have separate powers over the lockdown measures in their respective nations and they are proceeding with the relaxation of quarantine requirements at their own pace. Travellers returning to Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland will therefore need to follow the rules in place there. 

In addition, while the general advice from the FCO is still to avoid all but essential international travel, with effect from 4 July the FCO has relaxed its advice on travel to certain countries that are on the Government’s list of travel corridor countries to which the 14 day self-isolation quarantine requirement does not apply.

After a lengthy period under lockdown, many employees may be keen to travel abroad for their summer holidays or to visit friends and loved ones overseas.  So what can and should employers do if employees have booked personal travel abroad, given that under these rules returning employees may need to take an extra two weeks off work to self-isolate?  Here we take a brief look at the scope of the rules and some of the difficulties that employers might face. 

Who is in scope?

The quarantine self-isolation rules, apply to all travellers entering the UK, including British nationals and those who live in the UK, unless the traveller:

  • features on a list of exemptions (see below) – although such travellers are still required to complete the contact form; 
  • is arriving in England from one of the countries on the Government’s list of travel corridor countries and has not been to a country that doesn’t feature on the list in the past 14 days – although such travellers are still required to complete the contact form (but see the position relating to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland below); or 
  • is travelling from Ireland, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man (the Common Travel Area) and has not been outside the Common Travel Area in the past 14 days – such travellers are also exempt from the requirement to complete the contact form.
(As noted above, the exemptions for travellers returning from a listed travel corridor country initially only apply to travellers arriving in England. In addition there may be differences in how the other exceptions apply to travellers arriving in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as the devolved administrations have separate powers over the lockdown measures in their respective nations.)

We recommend that employers review the list of exemptions closely, to see whether any might apply to their employees. The list includes, for example:

  • road haulage and freight workers; 
  • in some circumstances, workers engaged in emergency works relating to certain essential services (such as water supplies, electricity generation, rail maintenance, off-shore installations, data security, etc.);
  • certain workers with specialist technical skills where those skills are essential to ensure the continued production and supply of goods;
  • defence contractors;
  • some medical professionals; and 
  • a person who resides in the UK and who pursues an activity as an employed or self-employed person in another country to which they usually go at least once a week.  

We discuss the quarantine requirements and these exemptions further in our FAQs on ‘Managing employees during the pandemic’.

What if the rules are breached?

The police will have the power to enforce the new rules.  In England, those returning travellers who do not self-isolate for 14 days could be issued with a fixed penalty notice of £1,000, or face potential prosecution. Failure to complete the contact form will be punishable with a £100 fixed penalty notice for a first offence, although the penalty could increase to as much as £3,200 for multiple repeat offences.

What if the employee can work from home?

If the returning traveller is an employee who is able to work from home, the issue of how to deal with their period of self-isolation is relatively straightforward: they can work from home during the self-isolation period, and should receive their normal pay.

From a health and safety perspective, provided the employee complies with the quarantine requirements, it should be safe for them to re-enter the workplace at the end of the quarantine period (assuming they haven’t developed Covid-19 symptoms or become required to self-isolate under another aspect of the Government guidance). 

What if the employee can’t work from home?

The situation is more complicated if an employee cannot work from home during the quarantine period.  In particular, careful thought will be needed in relation to pay.

The Government guidance on self-isolation during quarantine is silent on the status of quarantine leave in the employment relationship. However, the Government’s guidance on SSP makes clear that employees cannot get SSP if they are self-isolating after entering or returning to the UK and they do not need to self-isolate for any other reason. This is helpful confirmation for employers, as it gives a good justification for not paying company sick pay during employee quarantine either.

Since SSP is not payable, to facilitate the taking of quarantine leave, employers could require employees to book holiday to cover this extra time off. Alternatively, if an employee does not have enough holiday to take, their employer could allow them to take unpaid quarantine leave to cover the quarantine period.  

It is important to make clear to employees what stance you will be taking in relation to holiday that was booked prior to the lockdown, and whether you’ll take a different approach for any holiday that has not yet been booked.  Any requirement to take holiday to cover quarantine may influence employees’ behaviour when they consider where they wish to travel for their holidays, e.g. it could dissuade someone from booking a long weekend trip abroad to a non-exempt country. 

If operationally an employee’s absence during the holiday and quarantine leave will place too much pressure on the business, and the employee booked their overseas travel after the announcement of the quarantine requirements in contravention of your policies, you could issue notice to the employee to prevent them taking leave on particular dates.  However, employers should exercise caution if they are considering cancelling a period of annual leave that was booked before the quarantine requirements were announced, as doing so may give rise to legal and/or employee relations issues.  

Be clear about your approach and communicate that to employees

Whichever approach you decide to take towards employee quarantine, it is important to communicate your policy clearly to employees – particularly in relation to pay.  Make sure employees are aware:

  • of the government rules regarding contact forms and quarantine periods for returning travellers;
  • that they should get their holiday request approved before booking any travel (and also remind them of the processes for booking holiday and your right to refuse holiday requests);
  • that any breach of the quarantine rules will be treated as gross misconduct.  In particular, make sure employees know that if they have not agreed with you before they travel overseas that they can be absent for the quarantine period, you will treat the absence as unauthorised and take disciplinary action; 
  • of the fact that the list of travel corridor countries that are exempt from the 14 day self-isolation requirement could change at short notice if the Government decides that the risk level in any given country has increased, and of how you will handle cases where an employee has booked a holiday to a country that was exempt at the time of booking but for which the self-isolation requirement is subsequently re-imposed shortly before the employee departs or while they are away; and
  • that your stance on holiday is subject to change, depending on any future Government guidance.

How we can help 

If you would like guidance on your particular circumstances and you are a Make UK member, you can speak to your adviser. If you are not a Make UK member, please call 0808 168 5874 or email us [email protected].

CHECKLIST: Deciding your policy

Make UK Members can access our Checklist: Deciding your policy for managing employee absence due to quarantine after overseas travel, in the resources area as part of the Furlough Letters and Resources Pack. If you’re not a member, you can buy the Furlough Letters and Resources Pack online here

The FAQs on our website are also updated regularly and provide detailed guidance on issues relating to Covid-19.  

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