‘Be understanding’ of staff self-isolating after trips abroad

Andrew Matthews/PA Wire/PA Images

Employers should ‘be understanding’ of employees who have been forced to self-isolate following a trip abroad, the government has said, after it removed more countries including France from the list of ‘travel corridors’.

Holidaymakers arriving from France, the Netherlands, Monaco, Malta, Turks and Caicos Islands and Aruba from 4am on Saturday morning (15 August) will have to quarantine for 14 days because of a “significant change in coronavirus risk”, according to the Foreign and Commonweath Office.

There has been a 66% increase in new cases of Covid-19 in France over the past week, and a consistent increase in newly reported cases in the Netherlands over the past four weeks – rising by 52% between 7 and 13 August.

Over the past seven days there has been a 273% increase in new cases in the Turks and Caicos Islands and 1,106% increase in Aruba. Malta has had a 105% increase in newly reported cases.

The government urged employers “to be understanding” of those who will now need to self-isolate. When restrictions were imposed on people returning from Spain last month, foreign secretary Dominic Raab said no employee following quarantine guidance should be penalised by their employer – this included being put onto sick pay.

He said last month: “We expect employers show those employees who will have to quarantine because of the law the flexibility they need.

“If someone is following the law in relation to quarantine and self-isolating the way they should, they can’t have penalties taken against them.”

Philip Richardson, head of employment at law firm Stephensons, said workers were offered little income protection if they were unable to work from home during the two-week quarantine period.

“The government’s quarantine measures are likely to cause a significant headache for both employees and their employers. Those who find themselves having to quarantine for 14 days are relying on the goodwill and understanding of their employer to support them on their return, however for those unable to work from home there is a real risk of going two weeks without any pay whatsoever,” he said.

“Unfortunately there is little protection for these workers and no guaranteed right to statutory sick pay if you are isolating at home for the sole reason of travelling back from a foreign country. Given the nature of this pandemic and speed at which decisions and interventions are having to be made, more must be done to cushion the blow for those workers who are hardest hit as a result.”

When restrictions were introduced for people travelling back to the UK from Spain last month, employment lawyer Anita Rai at JMW Solicitors said employers should formulate a policy statement to make it clear to employees what their company policy would be should quarantines be imposed at short notice.

“[It] might be no pay or a requirement to work from home or whatever works for that employer. At least this way, employees know the risks if they choose to travel abroad beforehand and can make an informed decision [before travelling],” she said.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps said there were around 160,000 British holidaymakers in France, with “thousands” expected to rush to airports and ports today in order to avoid the new restrictions.

He told BBC Breakfast: “We’ve worked so hard in this country to get our level of infections down, the last thing we want do is to have people returning and bringing the infection with them. It’s to protect everybody.”

Prime minister Boris Johnson said the government would be “absolutely ruthless” in deciding on rules for holidaymakers returning from Covid-hit countries.

“We can’t be remotely complacent about our own situation. Everybody understands that in a pandemic you don’t allow our population to be re-infected or the disease to come back in,” he said.

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