Coronavirus and travel: seven questions about quarantine

Photo: Paco Freire/SOPA Images/SIPA USA/PA Images

On Saturday, the government announced that anyone returning from Spain, including the Balearics and Canaries, must self-isolate on their return to the UK for 14 days. There have been a number of flare-ups of Covid-19 across the world in the past week and the government will likely impose further restrictions at short notice on holidaymakers. Jo Moseley considers the employment law implications of quarantine.

1. Do our employees have to tell us if they are quarantining?

Anyone who is asked to quarantine must comply unless they are exempted from the rules. This means they must return to their home immediately after entering the UK and remain there for 14 days. They cannot go to work, shop for food or go outside for exercise.

Anyone who doesn’t report for work must follow their employer’s absence reporting procedure. Their absence should be recorded as “authorised” unless they are actually sick.

2. Can we ask staff to continue to work during quarantine?

That will depend on whether they can work from home and you are happy for them to do so. If they can’t work from home, you must not ask them to return to their workplace and must immediately send them home if they turn up. Anyone who doesn’t self-isolate will commit a criminal offence and can be fined £1,000.

3. Do we have to pay staff who are self-isolating?

In most cases, if someone cannot return to work and they can’t work from home, they are not entitled to be paid. However, if you’ve sent someone abroad for business purposes, they’ll be very miffed (and could resign and claim constructive unfair dismissal) if you don’t pay them – even if they can’t work properly from home when they get back.

Anyone who self-quarantines and does not have coronavirus symptoms is not entitled to statutory sick pay. This will leave many employees out of pocket so. One option is to relax your holiday policy and allow them to take any remaining holiday on their return, even if they can’t give you the normal period of notice you’d expect.

4. Can we tell staff not to go abroad on holiday?

You can’t normally dictate what your employees do in their own time, much less tell them where they can go on holiday. But, you can discourage them from going on holiday abroad by making it clear they will have to follow any quarantine advice in place and won’t be paid during this time.

Bear in mind though, that some people will have booked their holidays pre-lockdown and may decide to go if they can, even if they have to quarantine afterwards.

5. Can we cancel holiday leave we’ve already authorised to prevent staff travelling abroad?

In most cases, yes – but there are some risks attached. If the contract of employment or your holiday policy sets out how to cancel holiday, you must follow that. If there are no express provisions, the Working Time Regulations provide a mechanism for employers to cancel leave. Under Regulation 15(2)(b) you must give as much notice as the leave you want to cancel. Therefore, you if want to cancel two weeks’ leave you have to give two weeks’ written notice. You’ll need to explain to your staff why you have cancelled their holiday and tell them when and how they can re-book.

Cancelling holiday at short notice is likely to be unpopular. If workers have made travel or other plans they may ask you to compensate them for any cancellation charges they incur. They could also argue that you are acting unreasonably and are in breach of the implied term of mutual trust and confidence, which gives them the right to resign and claim constructive dismissal (they’ll need two years’ service).

6. What do we need to tell staff in advance of them going on holiday?

It’s helpful to set out your expectations in a policy or employee update so that your staff understand what might happen if they holiday abroad and are asked to self-isolate afterwards. This should cover: notifying you if they have travelled abroad, reporting their absence (and how it will be recorded on their records), whether they will be paid during quarantine and, if not, whether they can take outstanding paid holiday.

7. Can we dismiss someone if they can’t return to work because they are in quarantine?

Employees don’t have specific protection from being dismissed in these circumstances, but if they have two years’ service, they may be able to claim unfair dismissal. You’d have to show you had a fair reason for dismissal and went through a fair procedure – including allowing an appeal.

Not turning up for work is potentially, a fair reason, but most employment judges are going to be sympathetic to anyone who has returned to the UK to find that quarantine rules were imposed during their holiday and they have remained at home in line with government advice.

The situation may be different if an employee chose to holiday in a country which already has quarantine rules imposed – such as the US – but you’d still have to show the reason for your dismissal was within the “reasonable range of responses”. That will depend on the individual circumstances.

Jo Moseley

About Jo Moseley

Jo Moseley is a senior associate solicitor at Irwin Mitchell

28 Responses to Coronavirus and travel: seven questions about quarantine

  1. Avatar
    Julie Taylor 29 Jul 2020 at 5:50 pm #

    Really helpful article Jo Thank you

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      Steven Forrest 5 Oct 2020 at 5:41 pm #

      If I go abroad and come back I need to quarantine. But what happens if I go get tested and proven negative. Can I go to work then

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        Michelle Nkwera 23 Oct 2020 at 5:23 pm #

        Anyone know the answer to this please

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          Lana Curtis 29 Oct 2020 at 12:15 am #

          You still have to quarantine for the full 14 days. Nothing changes that unless you start to show symptoms in which case the 14 days ends and you begin a new 10 day self isolation period.

  2. Avatar
    Christine Blair 2 Aug 2020 at 4:13 pm #

    Some useful information above but not what I need.

    Myself and my husband travelled out to Spain on Saturday 25th July (last week) arriving at 11am, no travel restrictions were in place.

    As of midnight on 25th July the quarantine restrictions were brought in.

    I am ok as I am working from home but my husband is a Key Worker and has never been off through out the pandemic.

    Does my husbands employer heave to pay him, he would be returning to work on Monday 3rd August but now he can’t due to self isolation for 14 days.

    Losing 2 week wages seems very unfair considering we travelled with no restrictions. if the restrictions had been in place before we left, we would have cancelled our holiday and requested a refund.

  3. Avatar
    David Hunt 3 Aug 2020 at 12:14 pm #

    Two days after arriving in Menorca the Govt announced the 14 day quarantine we would have to undertake on return. We were obviously not aware of the repercussions of travelling to Spain before travelling. Can my employers now force me to take 2 weeks annual leave for the quarantine period ?

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      Lucy Simpson 7 Oct 2020 at 10:58 pm #

      Hi I’m flying to poland but my husband isn’t…when I come back can we still stay in same home and can he continue with his work?

      • Avatar
        nigel parnill 1 Nov 2020 at 9:42 am #

        Did you get an answer to your question as I’ve got friend in the same situation.

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          Alison Mccartney 1 Dec 2020 at 8:45 am #

          Can someone answer please . I am having the same problem . Went to Gibraltar for 3 days sons wedding . Gibraltar is not on the list yo self isolated. I understand I should not have gone .. but flights still went on . My employer has said I have to self isolated for 14 days without pay . When I don’t have too.

  4. Avatar
    Carolyn 5 Aug 2020 at 1:24 pm #

    What happens to the other people in the house that have not been away do we have to stay away from the person who has just came back and has to quarantine

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      Rhys Llewellyn 10 Sep 2020 at 6:53 pm #

      My wife has to quarantine comin home from Greece am i able to still go to work and live in same house

  5. Avatar
    Tony gaspar 13 Aug 2020 at 6:18 am #

    My partner has a dilema, he asked for holidays to go to Spain both to see family and to have a break, holidays were verbally approved and the fights were booked. On the weekend the government confirmed that a 14 day isolation period would be required.

    He asked his manager if it was still ok to go and whether there would be an issue, she said it was fine (verbally) and confirmed his holidays on the system.

    He was told yesterday that if he still went he would not be paid to self isolate for 14 days even though he CAN work from home and does so once or twice a week. To add insult he was advised that he could still work on the Fridays and would be paid for those days!

    This doesn’t sound right or fair especially when he can work from home and wants to!

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    Monica 13 Aug 2020 at 8:36 pm #

    Hi, I am a nanny and this year my family did go to Portugal and they have to quarantine for 14 days on their return. Can they ask me to work in their house during this period? If I would refuse to work for the quarantine period, would they be obliged to pay me?

  7. Avatar
    Johanna 5 Sep 2020 at 2:22 pm #

    Can we insist on 14 days self-isolation/quarantine even if the country is on the travel corridor, and have this as unpaid (their choice to go?) – as we work with vulnerable people… and even if deemed ‘safe’ we feel they should isolate in case symptoms appear… ?

    • Avatar
      Lana Curtis 29 Oct 2020 at 12:18 am #


  8. Avatar
    Al 11 Sep 2020 at 3:40 pm #

    Hello, my wife’s employer ‘threatens’ her with dismissal if she travels back home to visit her family. Due to Covid they are strict on that, but then if there is a quarantine and self-isolation, is there any legal right to do so? How can someone forbid to go and visit their family and threatens them with consequences? Is there any employment law that we can see?


    • Avatar
      Andrei Bobarnac 29 Sep 2020 at 9:15 pm #

      Did you gen any private answer or do you have any other information? I am in the same situation.

  9. Avatar
    Clive 12 Sep 2020 at 12:07 pm #

    Hello, I Want to travel to Amsterdam for a week and return to the UK. Then within a week travel back to Amsterdam.
    My question is when I return to the UK I have to Isolate for 14 days? But if I return to Amsterdam within those 14 days and as long I isolate the time I’m in the UK and go straight to the airport this is allowed?

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      Lana Curtis 29 Oct 2020 at 12:20 am #

      No because that means you’d be surrounded by other people while you travel back to Amsterdam and you’re not allowed to do that. Quarantine means exactly that I’m afraid. 14 days at home without going anywhere, no shortcuts and no way out of it.

  10. Avatar
    Bridgette James 13 Sep 2020 at 10:48 am #

    I have returned from Crete before self isolation was imposed. My employer insists I have a Covid test before allowing me back to work even though I have no symptoms and was not made aware of this before I travelled. Is my empoyer able to do this and should I get paid.

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    Abigail Cunanan 7 Oct 2020 at 5:08 am #

    i got holiday march 12, 2020 until april 11,2020 i went to philippines. but thhe country got lockdown march 15,2020 my holiday suppose to be 4 weeks but we got stock there for 7 weeks coz theres no available flight. when we came back in scotland we got self isolate for 2 weeks. my question is do we got paid for that in my job?

  12. Avatar
    Chris wild 9 Oct 2020 at 3:26 pm #

    Just got from Turkey.So I’ve gone into 14 day quarantine. I had the corona virus in March. So I can’t get it again. Can I ? Do I still need to quarantine.
    And got another holiday in Spain booked in a few days. Can I jump on a plane and go to Spain if I go direct to the airport.

  13. Avatar
    Thomas 16 Oct 2020 at 12:34 pm #

    My job sends me to quarantine for 5 days before a job in country and 14 days out of country. My job in country lasts 14 days out of country 2 months. My question is if my employer sends me to quarantine and it’s that often should it be paid and how many hours should be paid for it?

  14. Avatar
    Jonny 19 Oct 2020 at 7:54 pm #

    I currently work offshore in the Dutch sector for an Oil and Gas company based in the UK. We are rotational employees who work 3 weeks in Holland and earn 3 weeks leave. We are being told we must quarantine for 10 days in Holland (unpaid) prior to mobilizing offshore for 3 weeks.
    This is not a government request as Oil and Gas workers are exempt but a request by a separate organization based in the Netherlands.
    Can we be forced to return to work 10 days early to sit in a hotel and not be paid?
    We are UK employees just working on assignment in the Netherlands.

  15. Avatar
    Jackie Jamieson 1 Nov 2020 at 10:59 am #

    My husband is a key worker , he’s just returned from Portugal and had a negative Covid test .
    How long does he need to isolate being a key worker ?.

  16. Avatar
    Ngwa Emmanuel 13 Nov 2020 at 11:36 am #

    We are to start vacation from February….our company said we would do 28 days instead of 42 days,and the remaining 2weeks we spend in quarantine and pay 16,500scr ,when we re-enter seychelles.They said we are also to pay for 2500 for covid-19 test…is this normal

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    Julie 16 Nov 2020 at 2:52 pm #

    Hi, we have a house in France and have not been since 1 week we managed to get in July. We have cancelled all our other holidays due to Covid. however, we are booked to go for 3 days over the Xmas period solely for the purpose of draining the water system down in the house ready for the winter. I can work from home on our return. My husband’s employer has told him that he won’t be paid for quarantining (which he wasn’t expecting anyway) but he will be subject to disciplinary action and possibly termination of his employment if he goes to an area where he knows he will have to quarantine upon his return. Firstly, we didn’t just book the holiday it was booked much earlier in the year and secondly, can his employer sack him? Its a genuine reason for having to go, if the water didn’t need draining we would not be going, pure and simple. Any help would be good please. Thanks

  18. Avatar
    Aga 15 Dec 2020 at 3:21 pm #

    I got question. On Sunday I come back from czech republic (family reason why I went there) my boss knew about this from beginning im going abroad. I came back on 14th December, my employer told me I need to do test, and if is negative I can come back to work after 5 days. We been told after travel abroad you need to self isolate for 14 days well now is 10 days. What I can do? What is the best to do? As I don’t know if I need to stay at home for 10 days or only 5 days and back to work? I did test today, waiting for results back.

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