Employees self-isolating after returning to the UK

Some people returning to the UK must self-isolate (or ‘quarantine’) for 14 days, depending on the country they’ve traveled from. This could include returning from: 

  • a holiday 
  • other personal travel, for example a family emergency 
  • business travel 

Employees and workers who need to self-isolate should not leave their home to go to their workplace. 

If the person can work from home, their work may not be affected by having to self-isolate. 

If the person cannot work from home 

If an employee cannot do their job from home, they may need to take extra annual leave to cover the 14 days of self-isolation. In some cases, this might mean their annual leave request is refused. 

The employer can consider other options. For example, if the employer and employee agree, the person could be put on furlough (‘temporary leave’) for the time they’re self-isolating. 

Employees and workers are not entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if they’re self-isolating after returning to the UK and cannot work from home. But an employer can choose to pay them SSP – or a higher rate of sick pay – if they want to. 

Travel because of family emergencies 

Employers should be respectful and fair towards employees and workers who need to travel because of a family emergency or the death of a family member outside the UK. 

If the employee cannot work from home when they return, the employer could consider offering unpaid leave or special paid leave for some or all of the time they’re in self-isolation. 

Can employers prevent an employee travelling overseas if they are likely to need to self-isolate on return? 

Long periods of absence are disruptive for employers, especially while many businesses are under strain in the current economic climate. However, a blanket ban on travel to particular destinations may be unreasonable and may also disproportionately impact certain groups of employees who wish to use their annual leave to travel abroad to visit family. Employers should also seek to avoid policies which may be divisive among the workforce (for example, policies that only permit overseas travel for those traditionally white collar employees who are able to work from home). 

Consistency in approach will be critical to avoiding claims of unfairness and discrimination. A clear and well publicised policy on overseas travel in the post-lockdown era will also assist employers in managing their workforce. Employees may be disincentivised from travelling overseas if they know, in advance, that any period of self-isolation will be unpaid (if they cannot work from home and do not take annual leave). Policies might also deal with the practical consequences of an employee being overseas when a travel corridor closes.  

Where it is known, or it is likely, that an employee will be required to self-isolate on return from travel following a period of annual leave, an employer may be entitled to postpone the leave until a later date when it is more practicable for the individual to take it. The recent change in rules allowing for annual leave to be carried over for two years will assist employers who are seeking to postpone annual leave in this scenario. The individual’s particular circumstances may, however, make it unreasonable for an employer to insist on postponing leave, especially if the leave has already been approved and the individual has incurred non-refundable costs. The individual’s reasons for travelling overseas may also be relevant in determining whether it is reasonable for the employer to postpone their leave. 

Can an employer discipline an employee who is required to self-isolate on return from travel? 

If an employee travels overseas in direct contravention of a reasonable management instruction and is consequently required to self-isolate, or if the employee takes unauthorised absence (for example, where a request for annual leave to travel overseas has been denied), they may be subject to disciplinary proceedings. An employer should always consider the individual circumstances and whether there are any mitigating circumstances that justify overseas travel, before issuing a disciplinary sanction. 

SRC-Time are one of the South East’s leading accountancy firms in advising the self-employed and partnerships in all aspects of their tax affairs and we are able to assist in any issue raised above. 

Our expert team is available to provide you with advice and can be contacted on 01273 326 556 or you can drop us an email at info@src-time.co.uk  or speak with an account manager to get any process started. 

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