The Government’s regulations regarding travelling and the need – or not – for people to quarantine are changing as COVID-19 spikes are identified in different countries. The recent race-against-the-clock that British travellers in France had to make in order to return to the UK shows how quickly the situation can change.
In fact, it has just been announced that travellers from Croatia, Austria, Trinidad and Tobago will need to self-isolate for 14 days if they arrive in the UK after 04:00 BST on Saturday 22nd August. Meanwhile, the Scottish government has added Switzerland to the list of countries on its quarantine list.
The Government are updating their guidance for travellers on a regular basis and this lists the countries from where you can travel to the UK without the need to self-isolate or quarantine. The list also includes those where restrictions are in place.
It’s a pain for travellers and the need to quarantine following a later return could be complicated with many needing to take extended leave or alternatively, work from home - if this is practical. It’s also a potential headache for employers who need to manage employees who are unexpectedly absent.
In this article, we look at the new regulations and discuss steps employers should take to ensure best practice and comply with the rules as they stand at time of writing.
Quarantine and working from home
Employees who are returning from countries where restrictions have been put in place should contact their employers to report they will be at home and in quarantine for 14 days. They're not allowed to leave home and should follow their employer’s absence reporting policies.
Employees can work from home during the 14-day quarantine period. Employers must not ask them to return to their workplace. If an employee does make an unexpected appearance, they should be sent home immediately.
Quarantine and statutory sick pay
In most cases, if someone cannot return to work and they can’t work from home, they are not entitled to be paid. Anyone who self-quarantines and does not have coronavirus symptoms is not entitled to statutory sick pay (SSP). This will obviously require sensitive management and communication.
Where possible, it may well be worth considering temporarily relaxing your holiday request policy so employees can use up any remaining paid annual leave to which they are entitled. This will ensure they're not left out of pocket. Depending on your policies, you could also provide quarantining employees with the option of taking unpaid leave.
Communicating with team members
Although employers can’t tell employees where they can or can’t go on holiday, you can make sure they understand the implications or travelling to countries where quarantine will apply and make sure they are aware that of the consequences in terms of reduced pay if applicable.
Cancelling annual leave
In many cases employers can cancel annual leave but this need to be handled very carefully and isn’t without risks. If there are no express provisions, the Working Time Regulations provide a mechanism for employers to cancel leave. Under Regulation 15(2)(b) you must give as much notice as the leave you want to cancel.
The importance of professional advice
Employers should look carefully at their team members’ contracts and if there is any doubt, taking professional advice is an absolute must. Breathe are partnered with more than 500 HR consultants, many of whom have expertise in employment law and can help you navigate your way through any challenges.
If an employee fails to turn up for work, there could be grounds for dismissal but again, this needs very careful handling and professional guidance to you ensure you are working within the law. ACAS provide guidance about this particularly sensitive area of employee management.
Practical steps for adapting to the new rules
With any luck, you won’t need to manage employees who have had to enter quarantine. If you do, however, it might be a good opportunity to think about how you currently manage employees, absences, holiday bookings, documentation and communications. As the saying goes, ‘Never let a crisis go to waste’.
If you’re managing everything manually or relying on spreadsheets, consider using a dedicated HR management system like Breathe which has been designed to automate the time-consuming manual processes that come with employing people.
Breathe automates day-to-day tasks such as calculating holiday pay and recording absences saving you time and reducing admin during a period where your employees may need additional support.
We have recently added location management functionality so you can easily keep track of where people are working which is especially important if people need to work from home as a result of the new quarantine rules or because they need to self-isolate for other reasons.
The new quarantine rules are probably only the first in a number of changes that we will see as businesses adapt to the new normal. Making changes now to the way you currently work can help you prepare for what lies ahead and plan for the future.