On 10 July 2020, the self-isolation requirement was removed where the individual is arriving in the UK from one of the specified countries on the travel corridor list.
The travel corridors list included many popular European holiday destinations, except for the notable exception of Portugal. However on 25 July 2020 the government announced without warning that Spain was being removed from this list, including the Spanish islands.
Where does this leave employees who cannot attend work due to quarantine?
If they can work from home, then they should be encouraged to do so and paid as usual. A person in quarantine is not allowed to leave the home and so cannot attend the workplace to collect equipment or files. Employers might need to arrange to transport any equipment that they need to work from home, such as a work laptop, if the employee had returned them the office before they went abroad.
If they cannot work from home, then they would not be able to provide you with any work. In this case, they would not be entitled to their wages.
We recommend checking the provisions of your standard employment contracts and any company sick pay policy to be sure where your business stands, but in most policies that we have seen, it is very unlikely that they will provide for company sick pay in this scenario.
There is no entitlement to statutory sick pay (SSP), in contrast to the rules where households are required to self-isolate because one or more of their members has COVID-19 symptoms or has been advised to isolate by NHS test and trace.
The position of SSP could change in the future if the government decides to do so, but it might not be keen to do this if it takes the view that employees were aware of the risks of quarantine when booking a foreign holiday.
Taking the quarantine period as annual leave
Providing the employee has enough holiday days left for the current holiday year then, with the employee’s agreement, some or all of the quarantine period could be treated as annual leave. This would seem to be the ideal solution in many cases where the employee cannot work from home.
Otherwise, it will have to be taken as unpaid leave.
Can I stop an employee travelling to Spain?
Employers can cancel pre-authorised holiday by providing the required notice specified in the Working Time Regulations. The notice must be at least the same number of days as the period of holiday the employee intended to take (for example, 10 days’ notice to cancel 10 days of holiday).
However, you should consider this carefully before cancelling any pre-booked holiday for the purposes of preventing overseas travel. Arguably, there needs to be a proper business reason for doing so and you risk breaching the implied duty to maintain the relationship of trust and confidence in exercising this right unfairly.
It is also important to remember that not everybody who is travelling to Spain is doing so for a holiday. There may be those who are doing so for family related reasons.
What employers can do
We recommend communicating the principles of the above advice to employees so that they are aware of where they would stand, in relation to work and pay, if they have to quarantine on return from abroad.
The government has been clear that countries can be added to and removed from the travel corridors list depending upon the rate of infections, and so this is likely to remain an issue that employers will need to keep on top of for some time.