It’s not true that employees who have to quarantine cannot be ‘penalised’

29 July 2020
What was claimed

Employers cannot penalise workers who are following the law by quarantining after returning to the UK from abroad.

Our verdict

This is not correct. Employers can take action against employees, if they choose, including deducting pay.

“Employers, just like employees, have got to follow the law. I don’t think you could be laying people off or taking penalties against people for adhering to the law [...] If someone has followed the law in relation to quarantine and self-isolating in the way they should, they can’t have penalties taken against them [...] You cannot be penalised in this country lawfully for following the rules and the law that’s in place.”

Dominic Raab MP, 26 July 2020

During an interview on Sophy Ridge on Sunday, foreign secretary Dominic Raab repeatedly said that people who are required by law to quarantine on arrival in the UK from certain countries abroad cannot be “penalised” by their employer for doing so. 

This is not correct. Employers may take action against workers, if they choose, including deducting pay, treating their self-isolation as unauthorised absence or even beginning disciplinary proceedings. 

Travellers returning from certain countries must self-quarantine

People are required to self-isolate for 14 days when arriving in the UK from a country which has not been listed as exempt by the government. The government’s self-isolation rules state that you should only leave your home in very limited circumstances during this quarantine period. You cannot go to work or school, or go shopping. If you do not self-isolate, you can be fined.

On the evening of 25 July, it was announced by the Department for Transport (DfT) that Spain was being removed from the exempt list, and anyone who returned to the UK from Spain after midnight would be required to self-isolate. 

The DfT said the government is “urging employers to be understanding of those returning from Spain who now will need to self-isolate”. However, there is no requirement for employers to do this. 

What does this mean for people in quarantine?

Anyone who has to quarantine after returning to the UK from abroad cannot leave their home to go to work. Some people will be able to work from home during this period, but others will not. If you cannot work from home, you are not entitled to statutory sick pay (SSP), unless you have coronavirus symptoms. The government’s website specifically says: “You cannot get SSP if you’re self-isolating after entering or returning to the UK and do not need to self-isolate for any other reason.”

Employers could of course choose to continue paying their employees through their self-isolation period, but it is not legally required.

Tim Sharp, senior policy officer for employment rights at the Trades Union Congress (TUC), told Full Fact that employees who receive contractual sick pay may be in a different situation, depending on individual contracts, but added it was likely that most contracts “would place employers under no obligation to pay their worker.”

He added that the TUC was concerned some workers could be subjected to disciplinary procedures due to unauthorised absence, with anyone who has worked for their employer for less than two years unlikely to be able to claim for unfair dismissal.

Downing Street told us that employees who need urgent support because of quarantine may be entitled to Employment Support Allowance (ESA) or Universal Credit, instead of sick pay. 

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) confirmed to Full Fact that anyone infected with Covid-19 or who has been advised to stay at home and self-isolate in line with government guidelines—including those who are quarantining after travel—can claim ESA as long as they also meet the other eligibility criteria. This includes being under the state pension age and having paid enough in National Insurance contributions over the last two or three years or, if you haven’t paid enough National Insurance, having savings and investments under £16,000. 

Although the first seven days of an ESA claim are usually unpaid, those making a claim because they have Covid-19 or have to stay at home and self-isolate will be entitled from the first day of their claim. Under ESA, payments are made every two weeks.

You are also only eligible for Universal Credit if you and your partner have £16,000 or less in savings between you, and one or both of you is under the state pension age. It usually takes around five weeks to receive your first payment, although you can apply for an advance.

A government spokesperson said: “We urge employers to show flexibility to employees who will have to self-isolate due to the changes to quarantine rules. Employees should be supported to follow the rules around self-isolation.

“People who are self-isolating are able to claim Universal Credit and advances are available to help people get money quickly. They may also be eligible to claim ESA, and those who are self-isolating on government advice are entitled from the first day of their claim.”

A spokesperson for Citizens Advice told Full Fact that anyone who has been told to quarantine and cannot work from home should speak to their employer to see what options are available. This could also involve taking annual leave, unpaid leave, or being temporarily put back on the furlough scheme.

Workers could also be entitled to an increase in housing benefit, if they already claim, or a council tax reduction in this period, but they warned that claiming Universal Credit will end entitlements to some other benefits and tax credits. 

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