Holiday quarantine – employer options if employee needs to quarantine

29th July 2020 – Employer’s rights when employee has to quarantine after a holiday abroad

UK government requires people holidaying in particular countries to quarantine at home for 2 weeks on returning to the UK. They can’t go to work, shop or go outside of their own property for exercise. Failing to quarantine is a criminal offence and fines of £1,000 can be brought.

In some cases employees may have discovered this requirement when already on holiday (e.g. the recently introduced Spanish quarantine requirement) in other cases the employee may have known prior to leaving that their destination would require a 2 week quarantine period.

Now if the employee can effectively work from home this doesn’t present too much of a problem and most employers will be happy to allow home working, but if they can’t it is more of a problem.

Not sick

An employee quarantining is not sick so is not entitled to sick pay (unless they are coincidentally ill at the same time.)

Can’t come to work

If a quarantining worker turns up to the workplace they should be sent home immediately.

Unpaid leave

In most cases workers will not have to be paid for a period of quarantine, though employers might want to consider allowing additional holiday requests if the worker has more holiday to take in the current holiday year. If the employee has been quarantined because of a work-related foreign trip however it would be fairer to pay them normally during their quarantine period.

Disciplinary action or dismissal

Whether or not disciplinary action would be reasonable depends very much on the circumstances. In an extreme example an employee who requests a holiday for a country they knew would require a quarantine; who was asked by their employer in good time before leaving to reconsider their plans and warned of the consequences if they did not; and when that quarantine period would cause genuine difficulty for the employer’s work ….. may be disciplined for pressing ahead. In situations where the holiday had been denied, but the employee went anyway, disciplinary action may go as far as to dismiss the employee for gross misconduct.  As ever a proper process must be followed and a fair investigation undertaken.

Scaling back from this extreme example though, disciplinary action would seem less likely and may give rise to a breach of the implied term of trust and confidence, entitling an employee with more than 2 years’ service to bring an unfair constructive dismissal claim.

Options before they leave

Employers knowing that staff are intending to travel to a destination that will require a quarantine on return may try to talk their employee out of travelling pointing out the consequences – unpaid quarantine being an obvious one.

In theory it is possible to cancel a previously granted holiday, normally this needs at least as much notice as for the holiday planned – e.g. 2 weeks notice for a 2 week holiday. Cancelling a previously granted holiday may have legal consequences however as it may breach the implied term of reasonableness. Irrespective of the legal situation, it is likely to make the employee deeply unhappy and they may expect the employer to pick up non-refundable costs. Cancelling holiday isn’t an option to be taken lightly then.

Proactive briefing

Employers may consider communicating a temporary amendment to holiday policy with employees in circumstances where home working is not possible:

Holidaying in destinations requiring a 2 week quarantine period on return to UK

  • Staff should not normally book holidays to countries where quarantine restrictions are known to be in place.
  • Where prior written permission for homeworking has been given staff may choose to continue with their holiday to a country that will require a quarantine period on return but should heed government guidance and check that their travel insurance policy will cover them.
  • Save for where homeworking has been proved, periods of quarantine will be unpaid (but additional paid holiday requests for those with sufficient outstanding holidays will not be unreasonably denied.)
  • Staff returning from a country requiring a quarantine period MUST NOT attend the workplace during the required period. They must stay at home, not shop and not exercise outside of the designated quarantine address.
  • Where staff return from a country that did not require a quarantine period at the start of their holiday (but was included in the quarantine list during the holiday), the Company will make reasonable efforts to accommodate retrospective requests for homeworking, but this cannot be guaranteed and may not be possible for some roles.

 

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