LOCKDOWN rules are currently in constant flux depending on where you live in the UK – but after months of being confined to these shores, many people will no doubt celebrate the return of foreign travel and beach holidays when the pandemic eases. And while this can be good news, it does create a challenge for employers. The MDDUS employment law advisory team has received numerous calls from practices seeking advice on what to do if an employee who goes on holiday is required to self-isolate on their return.
This past summer dozens of countries across the world were deemed safe enough for “non-essential travel”, but those experiencing a spike in Covid-19 cases were added to national quarantine lists, meaning anyone returning from these destinations was required to self-isolate for 14 days.
As formal government advice on which countries require quarantine may change daily, it can be something of a gamble for travellers as to whether they will face restrictions at the end of their trip. To add to the challenges, government advice differs across the UK nations.
So where does this leave employers? Firstly, it is important to consider each employee’s individual circumstances. For employees whose destination country is added to a UK quarantine list while they are over there, you may wish to be slightly more flexible with your approach.
If an employee must quarantine on their return then consider whether they are able to work from home. If so, then this is the best-case scenario in terms of minimising the impact on their employment. However, homeworking is not always possible for all practice roles. We have also had feedback that IT equipment is in short supply, which can be an added complication.
Another option is to ask your employee to use annual leave for the duration of the isolation period. This may not be practical if the worker does not have enough leave available. In these circumstances, you may have to come to an agreement with the employee using unpaid leave. Unless the employee is exhibiting coronavirus symptoms then we suggest that the use of statutory or contractual sick pay does not apply in this case.
Employees who wish to travel to a country that is already on a quarantine list must seek advance approval. This may be a scenario that suits someone who can work from home, or someone who is happy to use annual or unpaid leave to cover the isolation period. However, it may not be practical to have an employee out of the practice for an additional two weeks over and above their actual holiday, in which case you could decline their leave request. Make sure your annual leave policy has been updated to take this quarantine issue into account, and be sure staff are aware of the need for prior approval.
As with any HR policy, it is important to apply it consistently and treat all staff the same. Some roles lend themselves to homeworking more easily than others. So to grant leave that includes extended time away from the workplace to some and not others should only be done if it is justifiable with a sound business case.
To conclude, an isolation or quarantine period needs approval in the same way that a holiday does and should be covered by either homeworking, annual leave or unpaid leave. For more specific advice, call the advice line on 0333 043 4444 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.