Summer sun and self-isolation – what are your rights as an employee or employer?

It's only been a matter of weeks since travel restrictions were lifted in an attempt to boost economies that rely heavily on the tourist industry.

Summer sun and self-isolation – what are your rights as an employee or employer?

It’s only been a matter of weeks since travel restrictions were lifted in an attempt to boost economies that rely heavily on the tourist industry. However, recent spikes in coronavirus cases across some European countries, including Spain, now mean businesses and their employees are left with uncertainty as self-isolation upon return from holiday has been imposed once more.  

Unprecedented times

Following an extraordinary few months, during which time the coronavirus pandemic has affected our day-to-day lives enormously, travel restrictions seemed to be easing finally as summer approached ‘ with many UK residents hopeful they could enjoy the benefits of what our neighbours had to offer. 

Many European countries, including Spain (and the Balearics and Canary Islands), were looking forward to being able to welcome British tourists on the hunt for some summer sun and enjoy a welcome economic boost. 

Knowing the facts

However, this is no longer the case. On Saturday, 25 July, the UK government announced changes to coronavirus travel rules, following a dramatic 75% increase in new cases reported in Spain between the middle and end of the week of 20 July. This spike left the rate of infection in Spain at 35.1 cases per 100,000 people, compared to the UK’s 14.7, according to the latest figures from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.  

The updated rules have affected thousands of holidaymakers, requiring them to self-isolate for 14 days upon return from trips to mainland Spain, the Balearics or the Canary Islands. With just six hours between the changes being confirmed and them being brought into force, UK tourists who were already abroad were left with little time to choose whether to remain on holiday and self-isolate for 14 days on their return or attempt to return to the UK.

Anyone returning to the UK will have to provide an address where they will stay for two weeks. During this period, they cannot go to work, school, shopping, public areas or have visitors ‘ except for any essential support required.

Travellers who do not self-isolate could be fined up to £1,000 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and those returning to Scotland could be fined £480, with fines reaching up to £5,000 for non-compliant persistent offenders. 

Further developments came in from 26 July onwards, when the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advised against all but essential travel to Spain, leaving thousands more travel-hopeful Brits who had holidays to Spain booked over the coming weeks faced with a predicament as to whether their upcoming summer sun will, or should, go ahead. 

What next?

Travelling to Spain now generates many questions for employers and employees about their rights on going on holiday and what both parties are entitled to. 

The current restrictions mean employees who are currently on holiday or who go to Spain will not be able to attend their workplace for 14 days upon their return to the UK. Therefore, many employees are seeking clarity on where this leaves them in terms of work, pay and holiday allowance. While employers are concerned about the impact this could have across their business. 

In other circumstances where an employee or someone in their household shows coronavirus symptoms or they have been alerted by the NHS test and trace system that they have come in to contact with someone infectedand they cannot work from home,  they should be deemed as sick, meaning they are entitled to contractual or statutory sick pay (SSP). 

However, post-travel quarantine is not included within the guidance on sick pay for employees who cannot work due to the coronavirus. This means that unless an employee is actually ill, they are not entitled to SSP and the employer and employee will need to agree  additional holiday (subject to the employee’s remaining allowance), agree to another form of leave (paid or unpaid) or consider whether if the employee has previously been furloughed, they can be furloughed again if they’re unable to work from home for the duration of their isolation.

Advice to employers

Although the government has asked employers to be ‘sympathetic’, there is no legal requirement to do so. However, throughout lockdown, many employees have been able to adapt to working from home and if this is the case, employers should permit this upon the employee’s return. 

However, for staff unable to work from home, employers are not required to arrange work that can be completed from home, nor pay them for their absence beyond their holiday period. 

Where an employee was previously furloughed under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, they could be furloughed again now for their quarantine period if both parties agree under the current furlough rules.  The furlough scheme has closed to new entrants so this would only be an option for employees who were furloughed previously.  

Simply put, communication is key. Discussing the impacts of an employee’s travel plans and the potential of taking unpaid leave or further holiday or being furloughed to accommodate for self-isolation is reasonable, as long as this doesn’t breach their usual maximum annual leave.

It’s worth noting that employers must take care that they are not seen to be encouraging someone to breach any government guidelines.

Advice to employees

Effective communication works two ways, and employees who are currently still in Spain should make all efforts to contact their employer and inform them of their situation, and put plans in place as soon as possible.

Employees who have plans to travel to Spain after 9 August should consult their employer so they can factor in the impact of potential quarantine on their work in deciding whether or not to still travel if the restrictions remain in place.

If a plan is not agreed before travel and an employee has to quarantine when they’re due back at work and so fails to attend work, this could be classed as being absent without authorisation and can be considered a disciplinary offence.

Laura Kearsley
Laura Kearsley

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