Government Guidance to Quarantine When Arriving Home From Spain: How Should Employers Respond?

On 25 July 2020 the Government announced that a quarantine period of 14 days would apply for all travellers returning to the UK from Spain. During this busy holiday period this could affect many employees as they return from holiday or make plans for the rest of the summer. What should employers do about the Spain quarantine rules?

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office has also changed its guidance to advise British nationals against all but essential international travel to Spain.

As an employer, this raises several questions which need addressing on how to manage this quarantine period, both operationally in terms of keeping the business going, together with managing unexpected absences and any payment to employees.

At this stage, Secretary of State Dominic Raab has placed the onus on employers to make the decision regarding paying employees and how to treat staff if they cannot return to work after their holiday.  

“If someone is following the law in relation to quarantine and self-isolating the way they should, they can’t have penalties taken against them,” said Dominic Raab.

The Government has also made it clear that Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) will not apply for a period of self-isolation for quarantine after entering or leaving the UK.

 

What are your options as an employer when managing non-attendance at work due to quarantine?

An employer’s decision on this may relate to the timing of the quarantine. Firstly, for employees who are currently on holiday having travelled prior to the announcement, employers may feel more inclined to act sympathetically as at the time of leaving the country, the employees were unaware that they would be unable to attend the workplace on their return. For employees who choose to continue with travel plans after this announcement and/or go against the Foreign Office guidance relating to essential travel, you may feel differently.

Some options to consider are:

  1. Can your employee work from home? – If so, this would seem like a sensible solution. Make sure that you have a read through our articles on remote working to ensure you are making this as effective as possible
  2. Can you furlough them? – This is a possibility if they fit the criteria in that they have previously been placed on furlough prior to 10 June 2020. You would need to be confident that you felt that this was within the spirit of the Job Retention Scheme.
  3. You could agree to the employee taking paid leave during their quarantine.
  4. You could direct the employee to take the time as annual leave if they have enough remaining and you can give them enough notice to take it.
  5. You could make arrangements for the employee to make up the time in the future. This may work best if the employee works part time and is able to work extra days in the following weeks.
  6. You could not pay them for this time so it’s unpaid leave. However, this could be seen as going against the guidance from the Government in terms of not penalising employees – unless it’s agreed with them. This could raise further issues as employees may feel they cannot afford to quarantine and instead return to work, placing other team members at risk. Alternatively, they could give another reason for their absence, e.g. sickness, which could result in them being paid SSP. Either way, you are to some extent relying on the integrity of the employee and manage any situations which you may feel breach your trust with them via a disciplinary process.
  7. You could issue a communication or an instruction now that makes it clear that you are relying on the employees returning from leave and set out how you will manage quarantine absences. If you are clear with employees, for example, that they will not be paid for any period of quarantine, then this could influence their decisions about future travel and make any decisions you take feel fairer. However you could go further and issue an instruction setting out employees should not travel while on leave to a country requiring quarantining on their return from leave.  Would you feel you comfortable issuing instructions to employees about where they spend their holiday time or are you justified from a health and safety perspective or because of the role they perform?  

As always good communication is key in employee relationships and therefore the overriding goal as an employer is to be clear in communicating with employees about your expectations. Ensuring staff are aware of the latest Government advice and Foreign Office guidelines will help too. This is a topic which will may well be repeated with other countries and regions in the coming months, so having a strategy now should make things easier to manage in the future.