Last reviewed 27 July 2020
The latest update to the travel corridor exemption rules has left employers with yet another self-isolation headache. At midnight on Sunday, Spain and its islands were removed from the Government’s list of countries which do not require self-isolation upon return.
This means that anyone who arrives in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland from 26 July from Spain and its islands will need to self-isolate for 14 days on their return. This move was taken following a significant change over the last week in both the level and pace of change in confirmed cases in Spain. Current guidance is that those currently on holiday in Spain are encouraged to follow the local rules, return home as normal and check the FCO’s travel advice pages for further information.
Employers will now be faced with making a decision over how the additional two weeks’ absence from work will be managed. The employee has no recourse to statutory sick pay (SSP) in this situation; it is important that employers realise the difference in SSP treatment for this type of self-isolation when compared with others, for example, when an employee lives with someone who develops symptoms which does attract SSP. Employers who misunderstand the rules and pay SSP to an employee who self-isolates on return from a non-exempt country will not be able to recover it from the SSP Rebate Scheme.
Employers who currently have employees in Spain or its islands should get in touch with them on their return to ensure that they understand the need to self-isolate and to agree with them how the absence will be covered bearing in mind SSP is not applicable. If employees can work from home, this is likely to be the most favourable option. If this isn’t possible, employers may consider:
paying full pay
paying the equivalent rate of SSP (this cannot be claimed back from the SSP Rebate Scheme)
paying contractual sick pay
agreeing further annual leave
enforcing annual leave by giving the required amount of notice (double the length of the holiday being enforced)
a period of unpaid leave
a period of furlough.
Due to the FCO advising against all but essential travel to mainland Spain, it may be that employees look to cancel leave they have booked. Others may still wish to go ahead with travel to Majorca, Menorca etc, in which case discussions should take place before departure about how the self-isolation period will be dealt with, again considering the options above. Employers may wish to adopt the position that self-isolation on return from a holiday will need to be covered by annual leave but must consider whether any such rule could be indirectly discriminatory because of race, which includes nationality.
Employers are permitted to cancel leave that has already been authorised and some may choose to do this to prevent the employee from travelling abroad if it is thought that the extra absence cannot be accommodated. While this is lawful providing that the employer gives the required amount of notice (the same length as the leave in question), doing so may harm employee relations, especially if the employee were to lose money as a result.