The red, amber, green travel lists and the requirement to quarantine on return from certain countries is raising lots of questions and quandaries for employers.
As things stand at the moment, the requirements are as follows:
Even if you have been fully vaccinated, if you return to England from a red list country (for example, Egypt, India, Brazil, Pakistan, Bangladesh, UAE, Turkey, South Africa, Qatar) you must:
- take a Covid test before travelling to England and
- quarantine in a managed hotel on arrival.
If travelling to the UK from countries such as Cyprus, Spain, Greece, France, Germany and Portugal, even if you are fully vaccinated, you must:
- take a Covid test before travelling to England,
- quarantine at home or in the place you are staying for 10 days,
- take a Covid test on or before day 2 and on or after day 8 after your arrival (these should be booked before you travel).
For travel from green list countries like Australia, Iceland, Gibraltar and from 30 June The Balearics, Malta and Madeira, you must:
- take a Covid test before travelling to England and
- take a Covid test on or before day 2 after your arrival.
The problems that employers are facing include not knowing where their employees have travelled to, when they returned to England or whether they have completed their quarantine periods before coming back to work.
To help address some of these issues, I thought it might be helpful to share some of the questions posed by my clients over recent weeks.
Can an employer ask staff where they are going before approving holidays?
Yes, but employment handbooks and/or annual leave policies might need to be updated first.
You will need to inform all employees of the new requirement and explain why you need this information. You should be clear about exactly what will happen if an employee chooses to travel abroad, including how to notify you, how to report their absence if they need to quarantine and whether they will be paid during this period.
Can staff be told not to go abroad?
No, you cannot tell people where they can and cannot go on holiday, however, you can discourage foreign travel by outlining the need to follow government guidance relating to red, amber and green listed countries. You can underline what this guidance is and make it clear that they will have to follow quarantine advice before returning to work, even if it means them not being paid.
Do employees have to inform their employer that they are quarantining?
They will need to follow the employer’s established procedure and report their absence from work in the usual way. Anyone who is quarantining cannot return to the workplace and anyone who doesn’t self-isolate will be committing a criminal offence.
If staff can work from home or from a quarantine hotel, they can do this, but if this is not possible, they must not turn up at work and must be sent home immediately if they do.
What if you suspect staff are being deliberately vague about the dates they are returning from abroad so that they can come back to work before the full quarantine period has passed?
Again, if an employee is actively avoiding isolation, this is a criminal matter. Employers should not knowingly allow a person to return to work when they should be isolating/quarantining. The company would be liable to a fixed penalty notice of between £1,000 and £10,000.
If you have genuine grounds to believe (or evidence) that an employee should be quarantining after travel, you must not allow them to work. You should follow your disciplinary procedure and require them to prove they are not subject to the quarantine requirements before allowing them to return to work.
Where you have a holiday policy that requires staff to provide details of their travel plans, it could be a disciplinary issue if they fail to do so or if they provide false documents. This would be failure to follow a company policy and failure to follow a reasonable management request. Remember that the company is under a duty to protect the health and safety of the whole workforce, so this is a serious matter.
If a person should be quarantined and can work from home, you should tell them to do this but if they cannot, they should not work and are not entitled to pay.
Can quarantining staff claim Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)?
No, unless they are ill, employees cannot claim SSP. Equally employers do not have to pay quarantining staff unless they are sick.
The only options available are for the employee to take unpaid leave, take additional paid annual leave, or, if appropriate, make up the 10 days’ spent quarantining over a period of time.
The Government has declared its intention to ensure quarantine-free travel for returns from amber listed countries later in the summer. This would mean that people who are fully vaccinated would not need to isolate for 10 days on arrival in England.
But for the time being the red, amber, green list guidance still stands and must be followed.
If you are an employer in need of advice about any of the issues discussed, please don’t hesitate to phone 01782 205000 or email email@example.com
Alternatively, for unlimited access to an employment lawyer whenever you need support, ask about our Beswicks HR service.