August 10, 2020

What to do When Employees Return From Spain

On Saturday 25 July, the Government announced that all travellers to mainland Spain, the Balearics, and the Canary Islands were to self-isolate for two weeks upon their return. This was after the country had reported the cases of COVID-19 had tripled in a matter of weeks.

With many taking advantage of the recent relaxation of the lockdown guidelines in the UK and Spain, along with the start of the school Summer holidays, this unexpected news understandably raised concerns. There were quotes in the National Press of holiday-makers already abroad airing their anxieties about their employment, and their pay.

The Government, of course, insisted that no employee should be penalised for having to self-isolate. But they also confirmed that self-isolating did not qualify for sick pay, as clarified by the Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab.

However, the Shadow Health Secretary – Jonathan Ashworth – responded that some employees may be forced to return to work because they may not be in a position to afford to isolate due to their employment circumstances. But this increases the risk of COVID-19 being spread further.

What Should Employers do?

It may be advisable for employers to consider adding a policy to their employee handbooks, which specifically refers to:

  • Those taking holidays abroad
  • What to do if there is an unexpected quarantine announced
  • The businesses obligations to the employee such as pay

It may be that an employee can work from home without any effect to their day-to-day fulfilment of their role. However, it might be that this is unmanageable for some. In order to receive some, or all of their pay, perhaps the employer could consider them taking responsibility for an alternative role during their time self-isolating.

Alternatives to consider could be that the employee takes any accrued but un-taken annual leave for part or all of the two weeks. Or, an employer could exercise their right to place the employee on furlough for the time that they are isolating (providing they have previously been on furlough).

ACAS also state:

“Employees and workers are not entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if they’re self-isolating after returning to the UK and cannot work from home. But an employer can choose to pay them SSP – or a higher rate of sick pay – if they want to.” 

Employers are encouraged to look into these suggested alternatives before the employee is unpaid for the duration of their self-isolation.

For employees who need to travel abroad in an emergency and are unable to work from home when they return, employers are advised to consider offering unpaid leave, or special paid leave for some if not all of the time they are self-isolating. An employee could also take this time as annual leave if their allowances, and the business allows.

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About the author

Judy Simpson

About the author

Judy Simpson

With 15 years’ Human Resources experience, Judy has a wealth of knowledge across a diverse range of industries. During her career, she has used her strong negotiation skills to bring many difficult and unpredictable situations to a speedy and positive conclusion. HR consultancy often means ‘thinking on your feet’ for a prompt and best-possible solution. As well as specialising in employee relations for SMEs, Judy’s experience includes Working Time Regulations, apprenticeships, National Minimum Wage, Transfer of Undertakings Protection of Employees (TUPE), relocations, Learning & Development, Strategic Planning, and Change Management.

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