The government has instructed British citizens returning from Hubei province in China, Iran, northern Italy and South Korea that they must self-isolate for 14 days, even if they do not have symptoms of Coronavirus. There is a lack of clarity around the issue as to whether employees will get paid if they are not at work.
The Department of Health has sent guidance to UK employers that staff who have been told to self-isolate are entitled to take the time as sick leave. If an employee is sick or suffers from symptoms, they will qualify for statutory sick pay or whatever their contract provides over and above that. By law, medical evidence is not required for the first 7 days of sickness. After 7 days, it is for the employer to determine what evidence they require, but the government have advised that employers use their discretion around the need for medical evidence in these circumstances. Whilst it is not an option for factory or retail workers to work from home, it may be possible for employees who do have the ability to do so, to continue working.
What happens if workers have been advised to self-isolate but are not actually ill?
In those circumstances, workers are not entitled to statutory sick pay. However, ACAS consider it good practice for employers to treat the quarantine period as sick leave and follow their usual sick pay policy or agree for the time to be taken as holiday. Otherwise, there is a risk the employee will come to work because they want to get paid which could result in the virus spreading, if they have symptoms.
Employees are also entitled to time off work to care for dependents such as an ill or elderly relative or if a child’s school closes at short notice. Again, if the employee is unable to discharge their duties at home, there is no statutory right to pay for this time off. Some employers might offer pay depending on the contract or workplace policy and encourage employees to book some of the absence as holiday after an initial period of absence.
If an employee decides that they do not wish to attend work and chooses to self-isolate, the employer should take steps to listen to the employee’s concerns. They must ensure that the employee feels safe and secure and attempt to resolve the issue to both parties satisfaction. Employers could, if appropriate, offer working from home or flexible working as potential options. However, if the employee insists on remaining at home, employers may be able to agree a period of unpaid leave or that the employee can take the time off as holiday.
Any failure to attend work without the employer’s authorisation could potentially result in disciplinary action.