The UK’s Coronavirus regulations require UK residents and visitors to the UK to quarantine on arriving to the UK by self-isolating for 14 calendar days, unless travelling from certain countries or territories. The regulations also have specific self-isolation rules and penalties relevant to England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. So, it is important to remember that even if the Employee works in England but resides in one of these countries; they must adhere to all relevant regulations and advice.
Need for quarantine
So, what happens if an employee goes on holiday to one of the countries listed as one in which they must quarantine when returning? Or if at the time of leaving the UK, the country they were visiting was not one of the countries they would need to quarantine, but it becomes one whilst they are out there?
Working from home would be the ideal solution but this can only happen if it is practicable to do so or the role can operate away from the workplace. If working from home is not possible, then for the employee to have a further two weeks out of the office will no doubt cause further disruption to the business at a time when business is rebuilding.
Even if the employee is tested for Covid-19 on their return and it returns negative, the Health and Protection (Coronavirus, International Travel) England Regulations (and the equivalent for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) imposes the quarantine rule and they still have to self-isolate for the 14 days.
Unpaid leave and time off in lieu
So, on the one hand, the employee must take responsibility for their own personal decisions, and on the other hand, employers should accept that these are not normal times, and flexibility is required in responding to Covid-19 as well as putting the health and safety of their entire workforce and customers at the centre of all decision making. It would therefore be entirely appropriate and reasonable to treat the leave as unpaid.
Although you may wish to consider going beyond this to mitigate the financial burden for the employee, but do so consistently, so you do not face claims of unfair treatment. For example, you may operate time off in lieu schemes and the employee has time owing, so you could combine an element of unpaid and TOIL. Alternatively, depending on their annual leave entitlement, allow a few additional days along with the unpaid leave, but ensure that not all statutory annual leave has been used for this overall period of leave as employees must have rest periods throughout the holiday year.
Setting responsibilities and expectations
Given the advice is constantly changing it will be the responsibility of the employee to keep up to date before they leave, whilst they are on holiday, as well as upon their return to the UK and essential that they keep you informed if their situation changes so that you can manage their return. We would recommend writing to your employee before they leave the UK setting out their responsibilities as well as your expectations in terms of a return to work date, what they need to do if advice changes, and how the leave is to be treated. This then avoids challenge after the event.
Further HR support
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