Lovewell’s logic: Should staff expect to be paid during quarantine?

On Saturday 25 July 2020, the UK government announced that, from 26 July, anyone entering the UK from mainland Spain, the Balearics or the Canary Islands would be required to quarantine for 14 days, following a rise in cases in Covid-19 in these regions.

At the time numerous Britons were already on holiday in the region, meaning they had not had to factor this quarantine period in to their plans prior to departure. With many due to return to work immediately upon their return, what does this new requirement mean for employers?

Where employees are able to work from home, they will still be able to do so, however, this will not be an option for many. Where staff are unable to work during their quarantine period, employers are not legally obliged to pay them. Some organisations, including Gregg’s, have already reportedly stated that they will not pay affected employees during this period.

A common sentiment featured in interviews with travellers returning from Spanish regions, however, has been a concern over their financial situation resulting from not being paid while quarantining. Given that the vast majority travelled under the impression that they would be protected from quarantine by an air bridge upon their return, in these cases, should employers consider making a goodwill exception and paying these individuals as normal? Is there an argument for paying staff during this period of self-isolation? While this may seem like a positive move from an ethical and duty-of-care point of view, most organisations will already face additional costs as a result, for example, in terms of paying for staff to cover shifts.

Employers must also consider what example this sets for those travelling at a future date if they decide not to pay staff who are aware of the restriction at the time of travel.

In some cases, employers may already have financial wellbeing benefits in place, which may be useful for staff who have to quarantine unexpectedly, so promoting these may be a further option to consider.

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With Covid-19 set to be part of life for some time to come, the UK government has suggested it may become necessary to set further requirements to quarantine going forward. As with Spain, these could be implemented at very short notice. While the decision whether to travel in current circumstances is completely down to individual choice, one thing this situation shows is that employers may do well to set policies around quarantine requirements so staff are fully informed of their position before they travel.

Debbie Lovewell-Tuck
Tweet: @DebbieLovewell