As schools break up for the summer and Covid 19 restrictions ease, you may be struggling to work out how to manage staff absences over the summer period, especially if they will be required to quarantine after a holiday abroad. This may not be as much of an issue if your staff can still work from home while quarantining, but it can be very frustrating if they can’t.
The detailed rules on quarantining after a trip abroad are frequently changing, but here are answers to the most common FAQs we are being asked, to keep you on track.
How long do staff need to quarantine?
If an employee travels abroad, whether they need to quarantine when they get back depends on where they are travelling to and from.
The government is operating a traffic light system which categorises countries according to their number of Covid cases and vaccine rollout success – and this will determine what your employee has to do once they return.
Staff who travel to a country on the green list currently don’t need to quarantine, unless their covid test, required on day 2 after their return, comes back positive. In that event, they and all those who live with them will then need to self-isolate.
If your employee visits a country on the amber list, the rules changed on 19th July, depending on whether the person is fully vaccinated or not.
- For the fully vaccinated, there is no initial need to quarantine, and the rules are the same as for green list countries, except if coming back from France where the 10 days quarantine rules still apply.
- If the employee is not fully vaccinated, they will have to stick to the existing 10 day quarantine rules no matter what the results of their day 2 and day 8 tests are.
There is an option for those needing to quarantine after coming back from amber list countries to pay for additional testing in a test and release scheme after 5 days in quarantine, and tests cost from around £90 upwards. Employers and employees could look at paying for this service to reduce the period of quarantine.
And if your employee visits a red list country, they have to be quarantined in a government-approved hotel for 10 days, taking Covid tests and staying inside with no earlier test and release option.
Do I have to pay staff in quarantine, if they can’t work from home?
No, there is no legal requirement to pay them and no entitlement to statutory sick pay. You could ask them to take any remaining holiday if they have any left, or you could agree unpaid leave.
We recommend that you proceed cautiously here, however, as there may be many different reasons why the employee travelled and now has to quarantine. For example, they may have been travelling to see a sick relative, or there may have been changes to the rules relating to that country while they were away.
Letting staff know as early as you can what your policy is going to be relating to pay and leave during any quarantine will help staff assess the impact on them in advance of travelling.
Can I discipline someone who goes on holiday to a red or amber list country?
It is very important to establish all the facts first before considering any sort of formal response like this to someone being unable to come to work. We suggest you decide on your overall approach first and treat everyone the same, communicating clearly to your staff as early as possible what your expectations are. You may decide it is less confrontational to allow staff to take unused annual leave or unpaid leave should they end up having to quarantine.
These are not easy decisions, and the communications with staff can be difficult to get right so we always recommend speaking to a HR professional first.
Can I ask them to cancel or change their holiday plans?
You can certainly ask your employees to cancel their holiday and reconsider the risks. You could even go so far as to cancel their holiday if you give enough notice, but you do need to be careful not to try and control your employees’ personal lives – they are allowed to go on holiday. What you might want to do is remind them that it is their responsibility to cover an absence that might result from the period of quarantine.
Remember that many of us are itching to get away after spending so long in lockdown. Cancelling your employee’s first foreign holiday in over a year could be an emotional affair, so treat the situation delicately and try and reach agreement.
How can I plan ahead?
Which countries are red, amber or green is likely to continue to change over the summer and there may be further changes to the quarantine process, so keep an eye on announcements of changes here.
Talk to staff early and clearly about your expectations of them. Adopt a flexible approach if you can, understanding the wishes of staff to get away on holiday. Ask them in advance where they are planning to travel so that you know if there are likely to be quarantining issues. Treat everyone the same, to avoid claims of discrimination.
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