Do I have to pay my employees who have returned from their summer holidays and have to quarantine?

Late on Saturday evening, the Government announced with no warning, that it was closing its air corridor with mainland Spain, the Balearic Islands and the Canary Islands, and that those returning to the UK would need to self-isolate for a period of 14 days.

This follows a recent surge in the number of Coronavirus infections in parts of Spain and is a measured response to the UK Government’s concerns that returning holidaymakers will also trigger an increase in such infections here in the UK.  The devolved nations of the UK are also adopting the same approach.

At the time of writing there are also reports that the UK could close other air corridors for example with France and Germany following an increase in infection rates in these countries.

This is also a concern for employers, many of whom have started to unfurlough their staff and who will have concerns about whether they have to continue to pay these staff for the period that they are in quarantine.

Although the Government has suggested that no employee/worker following quarantine guidance should be penalised, there is no automatic right for such workers to be entitled to their salary in such circumstances, unless there is already in place contractual procedures which ensure that their salary continues.

In the absence of any contractual entitlement, there is nothing in law that would legally entitle an employee to their full pay in the event that they follow Government advice and quarantine themselves for 14 days.

There is also no provision for Statutory Sick Pay either unless the Government decides to legislate for this contingency and many employees will be relying on the goodwill of their employers to financially support them.

Many who are unable to work will face 14 days without pay and employers are at the moment entitled not to have to pay those employees who are self- isolating following their return from Spain.

The only entitlement to statutory sick pay is where an employee cannot work because they are self-isolating because of a test and trace direction or a member of their household has displayed symptoms of COVID-19 which deems them incapacitated.

Work from Home

There are some additional options open to employers who can ask staff to work from home if they are able to do so, and for some it will be a continuation of the status quo from the start of lockdown.

However, there could still be implications for childcare arrangements, which could impact on the ability to work from home.  In these circumstances it is suggested that employers are flexible in agreeing to alter working patterns.

Annual leave

For those employees and workers who cannot work from home then the employer can ask them to take a further period of paid annual leave from this year’s annual leave entitlement to cover the period of quarantine, or alternatively to treat it as authorised but unpaid leave.

The other possibility is to allow the employee to take their annual leave from next year’s allowance.   This could work where there is an excess contractual entitlement to annual leave.  It will not work where the employee only has the minimum number of days that are allowed under the Working Time Regulations.  This is on the basis that the employee must have minimum periods of paid holiday every year on the basis that is it is a health and safety requirement.

Furlough Employees

The other consideration is to furlough employees however  this will only be possible if the employee in question has already been furloughed for at least three continuous weeks by 30 June 2020 or has returned from maternity leave after 10 June 2020.

Even if an employee can be furloughed, then caution still needs to be exercised on the basis that this might be seen by HMRC as an abuse of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme where penalties might be incurred.  An employer could consider placing an employee who is required to quarantine on furlough in place of another employee which will minimise the risk of an accusation that there is any abuse of the scheme.

Offer Financial Support

Employers can of course agree to financially support staff who follow Government advice and quarantine, and to pay their full salary or perhaps an agreed reduced sum.   It is however advisable for employers to put any arrangements in writing and to confirm that it is a discretionary payment and that there is no guarantee that if it happens again that the employee will receive any payments of salary.

It is also recommended that employers formulate policies to accommodate these fast changing situations and to make it clear what the company policy is in the event that employees and workers are required to go into quarantine following their return from their summer holidays from a country that no longer benefits from air corridor partnerships.

For more advice contact Steven Eckett – Partner and Head of Employment at Meaby & Co LLP  020 7703 5034 or seckett@meany.co.uk