What are your employment rights in quarantine if you can’t work from home?
On 25 July 2020, the UK government announced the removal of Spain from its travel corridor exemption list, giving most holiday-makers just hours to try to get an immediate flight home or otherwise face a 14-day quarantine period following their return or risk a £1000 fine.
Since, there has been little to no guidance put out by the government on the issue.
Other than asking employers to be understanding, there is unfortunately little at the moment which specifically protects workers who find themselves in this difficult position – particularly those with less than two years’ service who have fewer rights and recourse against dismissal than those with more seniority.
The government will hopefully introduce fresh legislation to protect workers in this situation against dismissal and provide them with a minimal income.
If an employee has only been working with a particular business for fewer than two years and is dismissed for absence because of quarantining through no fault of their own, they will have no obvious legal recourse other than their notice pay.
What are the employments rights of an employee in quarantine?
At the moment, employees cannot claim statutory sick pay (SSP) if they are self-isolating after entering or returning to the UK as part of quarantine but are otherwise asymptomatic. However, certain employees may be able to claim Universal Credit for this period.
Consequently, employees may be tempted to report even the mildest of symptoms to access payments of SSP, and the current rules inevitably encourage false reporting of illness or breaches of their quarantine to enable a continuation of some form of income.
Can employees take annual leave during their quarantine?
There is nothing specific to prevent some or all of the additional 14 days of quarantine being taken as annual leave, though this option will depend on the amount of leave an employee has left and planned for the rest of the year.
Employers may choose to extend periods of authorised paid leave if working from home is not possible, but there is currently no legal obligation to do so.
Can employees be furloughed?
There is option of furlough leave, but it is only available to employees who had previously been furloughed for at least three weeks before 30 June 2020.
Their absence from work is a direct consequence of the coronavirus pandemic, and SSP is not otherwise available during quarantine, meaning furlough in these circumstances is arguably a legitimate use of the scheme.
The ongoing uncertainty and chaos caused by the pandemic and rising level of infections in Europe in currently exempt countries means that quarantine will increasingly become the norm during the summer holiday season and not just for visitors to Spain, as other countries are anticipated to leave the exempt list in the coming days and weeks.
It is therefore advisable that employers should start to create contingency plans for the potential quarantine of their employees who may be traveling in the months to come.
The UK government has inexplicably failed to legislate any degree of support or protection for those in quarantine, which in turn makes breaches of quarantine more likely and undermines the policy.
It is hoped that urgent legislation is passed to provide the same entitlement to SSP as to those self-isolating for medical reasons, and specific statutory protection from dismissal for anyone restricted from working, whether this is due to quarantine or those who are displaying symptoms.
Without this protection, employees with less than two years’ service are extremely vulnerable to dismissal triggered by events out of their control. And for many employers who are already planning redundancies, to dismiss an employee who cannot work while in quarantine may be all too tempting.
David Sheppard is an employment lawyer Capital Law