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To fly or not to fly?..

Posted on 25th August, 2020

The risk of quarantine and having to self-isolate upon return from holiday .

Matthew Rowlinson, Solicitor, Employment

I love travelling and visiting new places a lot so being in lockdown has just made me want to get away even more, but unfortunately, Covid19 does not make the best travel companion and I have seen two planned trips abroad cancelled this summer.

At the start of July, the UK relaxed blanket restrictions on people coming into the country and they created a list of travel corridors where people could go without having to quarantine on their return. However, the position remains that anyone returning to the UK must self-isolate for 14 days unless they are travelling from a country with a quarantine exemption (the list of those countries can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-travel-corridors).

The government constantly reviews the list and often meets to discuss any changes that are required to the travel safe corridors depending on the level of coronavirus cases in any particular country and updates legislation accordingly (see Health Protection (Coronavirus, International Travel) (England) Regulations 2020, SI 2020/568) This has seen popular holiday destinations such as Spain, France and Croatia removed from that list at quite short notice throwing peoples plans into panic and chaos.

Due to the uncertainty a lot of people are choosing not to go away as there is a real risk of the country being removed from the quarantine exemption list before they fly or whilst they are away. Further, people who return from a non-exempt country and do not self-isolate can be fined up to £1,000 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and £480 in Scotland, and there are even fines up to £5,000 for persistent offenders (although exactly how this can and will be enforced is another question).

So, if you do go away and have to self-isolate upon your return where do you stand in terms of your job?

The general position is that people should work from home during any self-isolation period, however this will not be possible for a lot of jobs and equally some employers may not be able to accommodate this for business reasons.

An alternative is that employees can agree with their employer to take more annual leave to cover their self-isolation period providing they have enough leave remaining. Again, this may not be possible as many people will not have enough holiday to cover a 14-day isolation period having just come back from a holiday. However, an employer can actually require a worker to take, or not take, statutory annual leave on particular days so long as they give at least twice as many days’ notice in advance of the start of the period leave as its duration (other than where a relevant agreement, such as the employee’s contract, provides for shorter notice).

Another option could be that an employer decides to utilise the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme although they would be under no obligation to do this and the employee in question must have previously been placed on furlough.
In circumstances where you are unable to carry out your job from home or use annual leave you may be to agree a period of unpaid leave with your employer, but again this would be your employer’s discretion.

An employee would not automatically be entitled to pay or statutory sick pay if they are required to self-isolate after returning from holiday. If they can work from home, then they can be paid as normal but if they cannot then the quarantine period will likely be unpaid unless holiday is taken, or an employer decides to pay company sick pay.

It is important to remember that if an employee has coronavirus or any symptoms and have to self-isolate, then they are of course eligible for sick pay (statutory or company) in the usual way.

I would therefore recommend that individuals ask their employers before booking a holiday what the company policy will be in the event people are required to self-isolate upon return. Likewise, I would advise that employers have a clear policy and plan in place and communicate this to staff. An employer may respond differently, for those planning holidays to countries where they already know that they will have to self-isolate before they depart as opposed to those travelling to countries who are removed from the exemption list whilst they are away. Both parties should be flexible to arrangements and an individual’s circumstances and reasons for any trips should be taken into account.

The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has published employment rights guidance for employees and employers regarding self-isolating after returning to the UK which can be found here – https://www.gov.uk/guidance/self-isolating-after-returning-to-the-uk-your-employment-rights,  otherwise please do not hesitate to contact myself or anyone else in the Employment Team for advice regarding employees having to self-isolate upon return from holidays.

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